It’s official: Albert Suarez is starting against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, filling in for the injured Matt Cain, and becoming the first San Francisco Giants pitcher to make a spot start this season.
So, who is this Suarez kid?
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He’s 26, he made his Major League debut May 8 with the Giants, and today’s start will be his first in the Majors after making five relief appearances with San Francisco. Despite breaking into the Big Leagues as a reliever, Suarez is primarily a starting pitcher: since he began playing minor league games in 2009, 103 of his 109 appearances have been as a starter.
A Venezuela native, Suarez signed with Tampa Bay at 16 years old in 2006. He made his professional debut in 2008, but he never advanced above Double-A by the time the Rays released him after the 2014 season. He pitched for the Angels’ Double-A affiliate in 2015, posting a respectable 2.98 ERA in the hitter-friendly Texas League. Suarez was named a Double-A all-star, but that kind of performance by a 25-year-old won’t blow anyone’s eyelids off.
But it was good enough for the Giants to notice, and they signed Suarez in the offseason. He began 2016 at Triple-A Sacramento, where he proved his worth in 25 innings, posting a 2.88 ERA in three starts and two relief appearances.
Now he is stepping into the swingman role vacated by Yusmeiro Petit in the offseason, serving as the team’s primary long reliever and as the rotation’s sixth man. Suarez didn’t allow any runs in his first seven Major League innings. His scoreless streak ended last Friday when he stepped in for an injured Matt Cain, who left early against Colorado after pulling a hamstring. Suarez gave up three runs on five hits and a walk; that was over five innings, so he enters Wednesday’s start stretched out on four day’s rest—just like a regular turn in the rotation.
A big guy who measures 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, Suarez throws his fastball in the low 90s. He has a diverse repertoire of pitches that includes a curveball, slider, changeup and a sinker. Far from a strikeout pitcher (5.9 K/9 in his minor league career), Suarez excels through excellent accuracy, keeping the walks and pitch counts down.
In his small sample size in the Majors, Suarez has been more of a ground-ball pitcher, but historically he has been more inclined to induce fly-ball outs, which plays well at AT&T Park.
Soon we will learn more about him, such as whether he is a capable Major League starter and can give the Giants rotation security.