Falter wins fifth starter job to round out Pirates' rotation

March 25th, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. -- All spring, the Pirates were open that there was a competition for the final two spots of their starting rotation. Jared Jones claimed the first spot, forcing the team’s hand to include him on the Opening Day roster by dazzling on the pitching rubber by not allowing an earned run all spring and doing good work between outings.

The second spot is going to , who did not have the best spring results. In 16 innings pitched, he allowed 14 runs (7.88 ERA) and allowed six homers, both of which were the most for any Pirate pitcher.

However, as manager Derek Shelton explained, the Pirates wanted to look at more than just his spring results when evaluating him.

“We came into it thinking it was not only going to be spring but going back to some of last year too,” said Shelton. “I think that kind of played into it… He had one really bad outing in the spring, and we kind of throw that away because spring outings can mount up numbers really quickly.”

That particular outing was most likely a reference to Falter's March 16 start against the Tigers, in which he allowed five runs and a pair of homers over 2 2/3 innings.

Falter was acquired from the Phillies at the Trade Deadline last year, where he pitched in a variety of roles, including as an opener and a bulk guy. He recorded a 5.58 ERA over 40 1/3 innings with the Pirates. Falter could not be optioned to the Minors without first being exposed to waivers.

With Falter in the rotation, that means Luis Ortiz and Roansy Contreras, two other pitchers who were competing for a rotation job this spring, will start in the bullpen. While we knew this was happening to Contreras, it is news for Ortiz, who Shelton said will be used as a bulk guy for the time being.

The Pirates do have three softer tossing lefties in the rotation (Falter, Marco Gonzales and Martín Pérez), so there is some intrigue about what a hard-throwing right-hander like Ortiz could do following them.

“To say that, long-term, [he is] a bullpen guy, I don't think we've determined that,” Shelton said. “I think we still feel at times in the future he can start. But right now, we just felt it was the best role for him."

Ryder rides to Miami
Ryder Ryan had a few suitors this offseason after he was designated for assignment and made a free agent by the Mariners, but it meant something to him that the Pirates were the first club who reached out to him.

On Monday, the 28-year-old right-hander got word that he made his first Opening Day team.

“I’ve always had it in me,” Ryan said after pitching in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 win over Toronto on Monday, still flying high from the news. “I’ve always had that drive of trying to get to the big leagues. You have to stick to that. That’s the hardest part -- sticking there. I want to stick there with this team. I want to help them win ballgames. Like Shelty said, he wants to win ballgames. That’s the plan.”

Ryan made his Major League debut with the Mariners last year, tossing one scoreless outing. He struck out 10 and recorded a 3.38 ERA over eight innings this spring.

There was an opportunity for a sinkerballer like Ryan since Colin Holderman is going to start the season on the 15-day injured list. He used to be a four-seam guy, but started to make the change in 2020. He’s posted some good results with it in the past, including a 57.6% ground ball rate for the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate in 2022.

“I needed something else to go the other way for a sinker,” Ryan said. “I started throwing it. It was a dominant pitch.”

First Opening Days
Seven different Pirates will be on an Opening Day roster for the first time this year: Ryan, Jones, Ortiz, catcher Henry Davis, right-hander Hunter Stratton, and infielders Jared Triolo and Alika Williams.

“It’s always an interesting time because it’s a weird reality that it comes at the expense of someone else,” Davis said. “There’s never been a debut where someone else hasn’t been going down. But it was special to see [Jones] and so many others who have put in a lot of work. You’re pulling for all of them.”