Nationals pitcher Wander Suero drew praise from manager Dave Martinez for his cutter. (Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Wander Suero was sure his opportunity would come last season. The Nationals’ bullpen was a mess for three months. He was dealing in the minors. Connecting the dots wasn’t complicated. But Suero’s chance to break into the majors never surfaced because he wasn’t on the 40-man roster and a stream of injuries made those spots invaluable to patch other holes. So his two shutout innings last Sept. 2, which lowered his ERA between Class AA and AAA to 1.79, were the conclusion to his standout 2017 season. The Nationals’ minor league pitcher of the year then went home to the Dominican Republic to prepare for the nation’s winter league.

“Imagine, those numbers that I put up, of course [I was surprised],” Suero said in Spanish on Thursday morning. “I was positive and I was ready waiting for that call but it never came. What can you do?”

The answer, of course, is to continue pitching well until the numbers game cannot preclude him from his first major league call-up. He was a long shot to break camp on the Opening Day roster this spring — again because other relievers remain above him in the pecking order — but the right-hander again demonstrated his abilities with four scoreless innings in his first four outings. His fifth, however, may have knocked him out of the running.

The 26-year-old Suero grimaced after throwing his second pitch in the ninth inning of the Nationals’ 8-5 win over the Mets on Thursday. Catcher Pedro Severino immediately jogged out to him and signaled to the dugout. Manager Dave Martinez and trainer Paul Lessard then appeared. Within a few seconds, Suero was walking off the field. After the game, Martinez said Suero “complained of tightness in his left side.” That description indicates a potential oblique problem. Martinez said an MRI hadn’t been scheduled, but Suero would be reevaluated.

Earlier in the week, Martinez praised Suero. He called his cutter “unbelievable” and noted he was beginning to accumulate confidence. That cutter, Suero explained, was the fuel for his breakout last season. He always boasted one. It came naturally. Commanding it didn’t come as easy. Last year, he explained, that changed.

“That was my success,” Suero said. “I could control it and locate it low in the zone and all that.”

Suero faced 267 batters in 65 1/3 innings last season and surrendered just three home runs. He posted a 1.07 WHIP and struck out nine batters per nine innings. He performed like a player worthy of a shot at the majors. Barring injury, he should get his chance in 2018.


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