Wander Suero made 22 appearances out of the bullpen for the Washington Nationals in the 60-game 2020 COVID campaign, finishing the season with a 3.80 ERA, a 3.02 FIP, 10 walks (3.80 BB/9), and 28 Ks (10.65 K/9) in 23 2⁄3 innings pitched, holding opposing hitters to a combined .227/.324/.318 line (.163/.280/.209 vs left-handed hitters and a .289/.365/.422 vs right-handed hitters).
Going into the offseason, the Nationals tasked the right-hander with working on building up his core strength, his legs, and his durability.
Suero, 29, apparently took the advice seriously.
“I think every year with him, after having conversations with him, come August/September, he seems to get a little bit tired,” manager Davey Martinez explained on Thursday morning, before the Nationals took on the New York Mets in Grapefruit League action.
“I challenged him this year to get stronger in his core and his lower half, and he’s done that, and now he’s actually on a pretty good maintenance program, and he feels great.
“We want to continue — and we push him to continue to do that, not to slack off when the season starts, because we’re going to need him later on, and we need him to pitch big innings later on. So I think he understands now how long the season is and what he needs to do to prepare to play in October, because that’s the ultimate goal. So, like I said, he’s done really well.
“I’m happy for him and for us that he really took the time this winter to come to Spring Training in shape and did all the things that we asked him to do.”
“I worked hard this offseason and I’m seeing the fruits of this labor come right now during the games,” Suero said, through interpreter Octavio Martinez on Thursday morning.
In five appearances this spring, heading into the matchup with the Mets, Suero had thrown a total of five scoreless innings, giving up two hits and a walk while striking out nine batters and holding opposing hitters to a combined .125 AVG.
He credited his early spring success to the work he did with his secondary pitches over the winter and early in Spring Training.
“I focused a lot more on my secondary pitches, my curveball and my changeup. I have a natural cutter, so I feel like it’s always going to be there, but I specifically focused on my secondary pitches,” Suero told reporters.
Suero threw his cutter 81.6% of the time in 2020, while throwing 13.2% changeups, and 5.2% curveballs in the shortened season.
Hitters put up a .230 AVG on Suero’s cutter, with which he recorded 19 of his 28 Ks on the season. They hit .316 on his changeup, and were hitless on his curveball, though he threw the pitch a total of 20 times all year.
While he may work in some more secondary pitches, the expectation is that Suero will still be cutter-heavy in his pitch selection in 2021.
“We want him to mix in all his pitches, but he’s primarily a cutter guy,” his manager said.
“When his cutter is good and he’s throwing strikes, it’s very effective.”
But trusting that he can turn to his secondary pitches when the cutter isn’t locating well or is ineffective is the goal.
“Absolutely,” Suero said.
“If you’ve noticed in these games, I’ve made some adjustments with my secondary pitches, my offspeed pitches, mainly locating for instance my curveball, getting it over for a first-pitch strike, and my changeup has improved quite a bit. I feel like my secondary pitches are absolutely much better, and I’ve been showing that I can definitely, basically rely on them to get me out of the innings.”
“He’s really pounding the strike zone both up and down,” Martinez said of Suero’s work this spring.
“The other things is too is that he really honed in on his changeup. He worked on it a couple years, and this year his changeup looks really, really good. So, he threw it the other day on a 3-2 count and got a strike looking.
“We talked about that, not just throwing it, but being able to throw it for strikes, and he’s done that so far.
“That, to me, is going to be a weapon. Because his ball cuts and sinks, but the biggest thing with him is just locating all his pitches and throwing strike one.”
His strikeouts this spring (9 in 5 IP; 16.20 K/9), Suero said, are a result of the improvement of his secondary stuff.
“Like I’ve been telling you, it’s my secondary pitches,” he said.
“My offspeed pitches. I feel like I’ve been able to compete at this level with just one pitch, and I’ve been able to basically compete at the highest level with that one pitch, but this spring, as you’ve noticed, I think the biggest thing is my secondary, my offspeed pitches have developed and gotten much better and that’s where you see the biggest difference.”
The feedback he’s been getting from his manager and coaches has been positive as well.
“Davey Martinez always tells me that he notices that I’ve been actually working on the offspeed pitches,” Suero said.
“Because he’s seen the breaking pitch, especially, and how well it’s been working, and so he sees that I’ve done some work this offseason to improve those pitches.”