Our offseason player review series continues today with Wander Suero, who opened the season on the COVID-19 injured list but found his rhythm by September.
PLAYER REVIEW: WANDER SUERO
Age on opening day 2021: 29
How acquired: Signed as international free agent, February 2010
MLB service time: 2 years, 123 days
2020 salary: $582,200 (prorated $215,630)
Contract status: Under team control, arbitration-eligible in 2022, free agent in 2025
2020 stats: 2-0, 3.80 ERA, 22 G, 0 SV, 23 2/3 IP, 20 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 1 HR, 10 BB, 28 SO, 3 HBP, 1.268 WHIP, 122 ERA+, 3.02 FIP, 0.5 fWAR, 0.6 bWAR
Quotable: “We’ve just got to get him out there, get him built up. Today he was 91, 92 (mph) tops. We’ve just got to get him out there. When you miss that much time, you’ve just got to build your strength back up and get out there and face as many hitters as possible.” - Manager Davey Martinez after Suero’s Aug. 7 appearance, his second of the season
2020 analysis: While most of his teammates were working out daily at Nationals Park in July, Suero was in quarantine, forbidden from participating in summer training after arriving in D.C. from the Dominican Republic. On July 13, the right-hander officially was placed on the COVID-19 injured list, and though he was cleared to join camp a week later, the time lost forced him to remain on the IL come opening day.
Finally on Aug. 4, Suero was activated and joined the Nationals bullpen. His first month was ragged; he was scored upon in five of his first 11 appearances and entered September with a 5.54 ERA and .302 opponents’ batting average, his fastball velocity down several notches from the 93-95 mph range he showed in 2019.
With time, though, Suero found success. His velocity came back up, and he began to more consistently pitch well. He posted a 1.69 ERA in 11 September games, with opponents batting a scant .114 off him. He was confined to mostly the sixth and seventh innings, but he did help the Nats win: He was credited with a hold in seven of his last nine appearances.
2021 outlook: Though he’s not as high on the organizational relief chart as Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Tanner Rainey or Kyle Finnegan, Suero has shown enough the last three seasons to merit a spot in the opening day bullpen if healthy. He seems best-suited as something of a bridge guy to connect starters to his back end bullpen mates, though probably not as a multi-inning reliever as he’s been used at times.
Martinez has repeatedly mentioned Suero’s success against left-handed hitters as reason to use him in key spots against southpaw sluggers. That wasn’t necessarily true in 2019 - lefties hit .279 with a .338 on-base percentage against him - but it was accurate this season. Suero held lefties to a .163 average and .209 slugging percentage. And none of the 10 homers he’s surrendered in the majors have come by a lefty.
As always, consistency will be key for Suero. If he can limit his bad outings - which tend to turn really bad - he can be a successful big league reliever and hold a regular role in the Nationals bullpen. If he can’t, the organization will have to decide how many more chances to give him.