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Perrotto: Bailey Falter Makes Right Turn at Potential Crossroads



Bailey Falter, Pittsburgh Pirates

It was quite the headscratcher.

When the Pittsburgh Pirates finalized their opening-day roster on the last day of spring training almost two weeks ago, they announced that left-hander Bailey Falter had one of the two open spots in the starting rotation along with rookie Jared Jones.

Jones was an easy choice after not allowing a run in 16.1 innings in Grapefruit League play. It was difficult to understand the Pirates’ reasoning with Falter, though.

Falter had a 5.58 ERA in 40.1 innings last season after being acquired on Aug. 1 in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies. He wasn’t better this spring when he gave up 14 runs in 16 innings.

The decision looked even worse last Sunday when Falter made his first start of the season. He was tagged for six runs in four innings by the Marlins in Miami, making for a miserable Easter until the Pirates rallied for the win and took Falter off the hook for the loss.

However, everything changed on Saturday at PNC Park. Falter showed the Pirates’ faith in him by mowing through the Baltimore Orioles’ powerful lineup for six shutout innings.

Though the bullpen blew the 3-0 lead that Falter bequeathed it, the Pirates went on to win 5-4 in 11 innings.

“That’s the sharpest we’ve seen Bailey,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “He was really good. That’s a really good team, and he kept ‘em off the barrel the entire game. It was an outstanding effort by Bailey.”

Falter admitted he needed a confidence boost after, er, faltering throughout most of spring training and then in his 2024 debut. He spent time talking with pitching coach Oscar Marin as well as fellow rotation mates Martin Perez and Mitch Keller in the days leading up to Saturday’s outing.

“We just simplified some things and went out there and attacked some guys and it paid off pretty well,” Falter said.

The gameplan was fastball-heavy and 61 of Falter’s 78 pitches were four-seamers. That was a risky thing to do against the Orioles, who won an American League-best 101 games last season.

However, it worked, even though Falter registered only one strikeout.

But Falter also allowed only one hit, which should have been an out. Jorge Mateo led off the sixth inning with a blooper that fell between center fielder Jack Suwinski, second baseman Alika Williams and right fielder Connor Joe for a gift double.

The Orioles had only two other batters reach base against Falter. That was in the fourth inning when Adley Rutschman walked with one out and Ryan Mountcastle reached on a fielding error by Williams before Falter escaped.

Catcher Joey Bart made his Pirates’ debut after being acquired earlier in the week in a trade with the San Francisco Giants. The two proved to be a good pairing.

“After the first inning, Joey came up to me. He’s like, ‘Hey, man, you stay right there. Just trust me and we’re going to ride together,’” Falter said. “So, a lot of heaters today,”

There are likely going to be more heaters to come from Falter. He realizes his approach to pitching needs to change. Before Saturday, he had a 10-14 career record and 4.94 ERA over four seasons, 61 games and 32 starts.

Conversely, Falter, 26, had a 3.04 ERA in 509.1 minor-league innings over eight seasons.

“Honestly, I think I just kind of shied away from being the player that ended up getting me to the big leagues,” Falter said. “So, we’ve been trying to work on some other stuff instead of coming to my identity. Personally, I think my fastball is my best pitch and all my other stuff is just to get you off of it.”

The approach worked for Falter in the minors. He is at the point in his career where he needs to know if it will work in the majors.

It worked quite well on Saturday.

John Perrotto is a columnist for Pittsburgh Baseball Now and has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB since 1988.

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