Monday, December 6, 2021

Robert Suarez of the San Diego Padres

Former Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Hanshin Tigers pitcher Robert Suarez signed a one year contract with the San Diego Padres last week.  Suarez is kind of odd in that he never was part of a major league organization before coming to Japan.  His first professional experience was with the Saraperos de Saltillo of the Mexican League in 2015 and his performance there at age 24 (5-0 record, 1.71 ERA, 22 saves, 48 strikeouts and seven walks in 47 1/3 innings in 43 games out ofthe bullpen) drew the interest of several MLB teams but it was the Hawks that ended up signing him.  He had a good first season for Softbank in 2016, posting a 3.19 ERA in 58 middle relief appearances, but he injured his elbow while pitching for Venezuela in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and needed Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss the entire 2017 season along with part of 2018.  He came back in August of 2018 but didn't pitch particularly well.  In 2019 the Hawks made the somewhat puzzling decision to make him a starter which didn't go well - he went 0-4 with a 5.74 ERA in nine games (only six of which were starts).  He made an appearance in Game Four of the Nippon Series that year, giving up a two run home run to Kazuma Okamoto in the sixth inning.

The Hawks released him after the Series and the Tigers picked him up to be a setup guy for their bullpen for the 2020 season.  Less than a month into the season he had replaced Kyuji Fujikawa as the team’s closer and he ultimately led the Central League in saves with 25.  He also went 3-1 with a 2.24 ERA in 51 games.  He and his brother Albert of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows made NPB history on October 19th when they became the first two gaijin brothers to appear in the same game.  Suarez followed up with an even better season in 2021, going 1-1 with a minuscule 1.16 ERA in 62 games while leading the CL in saves again, this time with 42.

Suarez apparently signed his deal with the Padres before the lockout started so he's got a contract for 2022 - assuming there is a 2022 MLB season of course - unlike former Fighter and Hawk Nick Martinez who's contract with the Padres did not get completed in time and is in limbo.

Almost all of Suarez's baseball cards in Japan are from BBM.  His first card was #012 in BBM's 2016 1st Version set and he appeared in the 2nd Version set that year as well.  His other BBM flagship appearances were 2017 1st Version, 2020 Fusion and both 1st and 2nd Version in 2021 (and I expect him to have a "Title Holder" card in the Fusion set when it comes out in a few weeks).  He also appears in the Hawks team sets from 2016 to 2019 and the Tigers team sets from 2020 and 2021.  His only Calbee card appears to be a "Title Holder" insert card from the 2021 Series One set and his only Epoch cards are from the 2021 Tigers Rookies & Stars set (both a base card and an insert card).  Here's several of his cards (all BBM ones):

2016 BBM 1st Version #012

2017 BBM Hawks #H32

2019 BBM Hawks #H36

2020 BBM Tigers #T35

2020 BBM Fusion #TH20

2021 BBM 1st Version #199

One last thing about Suarez - did you notice something odd about his uniform number with the Hawks?  He wore #90 which the team at one point had retired for Yasutake Kageura, the protagonist of the manga Abu-san.  Not sure why he wanted that number - especially since he didn't take it with the Tigers.  Apparently the Hawks had un-retired the number when the manga ended in 2014.

1998 BBM Hawks set #74

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