How will Phils use red-hot Falter down stretch?

September 17th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki's Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

A few weeks ago, we wondered if the Phillies had another Marty Bystrom in their future.

We framed the question around the idea that pitching prospects Andrew Painter (No. 1 Phillies prospect), Mick Abel (No. 2) or Griff McGarry (No. 4) could help them in September, like Bystrom, who went 5-0 with a 1.50 ERA in the first six appearances (five starts) of his career as a rookie in September 1980.

Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said it was unlikely, but a little more than a week later the organization moved McGarry from the rotation to the bullpen and promoted him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

McGarry is a bullpen insurance policy, if they need it.

But a Bystrom emerged anyway. Bailey Falter, 25, is not a rookie, but he has been huge for the Phillies as they move toward their first postseason appearance since 2011. He is 5-0 with a 2.43 ERA in five starts from Aug. 20 through Tuesday, making his four most recent starts in place of injured ace Zack Wheeler. Falter is the first Phillies pitcher to win five consecutive starts since Zach Eflin won six straight from June 5 to July 3, 2018. He is the first Phillies left-hander to win five consecutive starts since Cole Hamels won five straight from May 6-28, 2012. He is the first Phillies pitcher to win five consecutive starts this late in the season (Sept. 13 or later) since Roy Halladay won five straight from Sept. 4-27, 2010.

Falter will try to make it six straight on Sunday in Atlanta.

“Every opportunity I get to come up here, I want to give these guys a chance to win,” Falter said. “That’s my job.”

Falter made the Opening Day roster as a long man, but he got optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley on April 26, because the Phillies wanted him to keep him as a starter, specifically for situations like this.

It was the first of seven times Falter has been sent to Triple-A this season, which is a lot. (He has been optioned five times and was the 27th man twice.) Mickey Moniak got optioned eight times last season, but no Phillies pitcher had been up and down at least seven times since Austin Davis got optioned seven times in 2019.

“I’m not going to lie,” Falter said. “The first two or three times, it’s kind of frustrating. And then I just told myself, 'Dude, you’re doing literally everything you possibly can, just don’t get frustrated. It’s not in your control. Just control the only thing you can, which is coming up and giving the team a chance to win.' So that’s how I’ve been living this year.”

Life as an optionable player is not easy. Falter’s stints in the big leagues before he got sent down were 18 days, one day, three days, one day, seven days, 10 days and one day.

This is Falter’s longest stint with the Phillies this year.

“It’s just a lot of driving this year,” he said. “A lot of gas money.”

Longtime girlfriend Kylee Card has helped Falter with the quick turnarounds. Because when the team calls, it is time to go.

“I usually live out of my suitcase, just because I never know what’s going to happen,” Falter said. “But Kylee is great. She gets the whole baseball life. She understands. ‘Hey, start packing the car. It’s that time again.’ I’ll get back from the field and everything will be ready to go. She’s been a huge help.”

It remains to be seen how the Phillies will use Falter after Sunday, because Wheeler is on track to rejoin the rotation on Wednesday. But since Falter started his five-game winning streak on Aug. 20, he's led the rotation in innings (29 2/3), WHIP (0.84), opponent OPS (.573) and ERA. He is tied with Aaron Nola with the fewest walks (two) in that span.

The Phillies could keep him in the rotation. Interim manager Rob Thomson said Thursday that everything will remain status quo until Wheeler is back. Or the Phillies could move Falter to the bullpen to be a long man for the stretch drive.

The IronPigs’ season ends Sept. 28. It seems unlikely the Phillies would option him to Triple-A.

“We’ll have to talk about it and figure it out,” Thomson said after Falter’s last start. “But he sure has helped us since Wheels has been down. He’s a big part of this club.”

And he has pitched his best in the Phillies’ most significant September in more than a decade.