BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- Thursday’s Double-A Binghamton-Harrisburg game was meant to be a showcase for bats. Six Top 100 prospects were split evenly between hosts Binghamton (Luisangel Acuña, Drew Gilbert, Kevin Parada) and visitors Harrisburg (Dylan Crews, James Wood, Brady House), and each of the half-dozen plied their trades at the
BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- Thursday’s Double-A Binghamton-Harrisburg game was meant to be a showcase for bats. Six Top 100 prospects were split evenly between hosts Binghamton (Luisangel Acuña, Drew Gilbert, Kevin Parada) and visitors Harrisburg (Dylan Crews, James Wood, Brady House), and each of the half-dozen plied their trades at the plate.
Joander Suarez had different plans for the spotlight.
The Mets right-handed pitching prospect tossed six hitless innings in his Rumble Ponies debut to lead them to a 1-0 win over the Senators at Mirabito Stadium. Suarez struck out six, allowed just one walk and got 17 whiffs on 56 strikes over 79 pitches in his Eastern League opener.
“We’re trying to get guys a couple levels up where they’ve heard of every player they face,” said Binghamton pitching coach A.J. Sager. “We don’t want to make too a big a deal about the ones that everybody’s heard. It looked like to me he pitched the same throughout the lineup, which is what you want.”
The 23-year-old right-hander certainly didn’t look intimidated right out of the chute, first getting Crews, the Harrisburg leadoff hitter, to ground out meekly back to the mound and then rolling off a string of four straight strikeouts against Robert Hassell III (changeup), Trey Lipscomb (curveball), Wood (slider) and House (fastball).
The diversity of those K’s played into Suarez’s biggest strength on the bump, according to Sager. While his heater shows roughly average velo around 93 mph, he has multiple weapons he can rely on for whiffs, and when hitters can’t just sit on one or two offerings, the 6-foot-3 hurler becomes a much tougher at-bat.
“He and catcher Hayden Senger did a really good job of mixing pitches and mixing speeds,” Sager said. “Sometimes if you bring a guy to another level, they tend to fall into their comfort zone and just try to throw a bunch of fastballs or they think they have to trick hitters and throw all offspeed. But I thought he did a really good job of mixing, and that’s Pitching Fundamentals 101.”
Strikeouts weren’t tough to come by for Suarez during his High-A stint. The Venezuela native left Brooklyn as the club’s single-season strikeout record holder with 118 K’s in 90 1/3 innings. His 69 punchouts over 50 2/3 frames (including Thursday’s six) are tied for fifth-most in the Minors since the start of July. But Suarez also left the South Atlantic League with a 5.08 ERA and a rough 11.2 percent walk rate. Much of those control concerns came in the first half, however, and Suarez issued only 11 free passes in his final 10 outings (45 2/3 innings) as a Cyclone.
Instead of trying to overpower hitters and losing command in the process, Suarez, who is up to a career-high 96 1/3 innings this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2021, has learned to trust his stuff in the zone early and get chases outside of it when the count is in his favor. It’s work that started in Coney Island and will now carry to New York’s Southern Tier.
“What I saw tonight is a guy who threw the ball over the plate with confidence and at different speeds,” Sager said. “And that’s going to work for a long time. We want to keep that same mindset as we go forward.”
Binghamton certainly got an effective Suarez at the right time. The Rumble Ponies -- winners of four straight -- have a four-game lead over Portland for the final postseason spot in the Eastern League's Northeast Division with 16 games remaining on the schedule. A Double-A playoff run would be a big boost for a Mets organization that has taken on a renewed focus on the Minor Leagues in the second half of 2023.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.