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Perrotto: Utility Pitcher Tag No Insult for Bailey Falter

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Bailey Falter, Pittsburgh Pirates

Terry Mulholland used to refer to himself as a “utility pitcher” back in his playing days.

The left-hander pitched in the major leagues for 20 seasons between 1986-2006 – including a partial season with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001 – in multiple roles. Hence, the term “utility pitcher.”

Mulholland, the pride of Laurel Highlands High School, was also a very witty man but I digress.

Lefty Bailey Falter is one of many pitchers competing for two open spots in the Pirates’ rotation in spring training. However, Falter isn’t getting caught up in what his role might be when the season begins.

Former Pirates manager Jim Leyland used to say roles were “to put butter on.” That is Falter’s attitude at the Pirates’ camp in Bradenton, Fla.

“I’m doing the same thing as I always do this spring, not changing anything,” Falter said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m a starter or an opener or a middle reliever or a long reliever. It really doesn’t matter to me. Whatever the job the guys need me to do, my job is to throw the ball and get people out when they call my name.”

Simple enough.

Falter will try to prove he should fill some role on the Pirates’ pitching staff following a rocky two months with the Bucs at the end of last season.

The Pirates acquired Falter from the Philadelphia Phillies on Aug. 1 in a trade for infielder Rodolfo Castro. The 26-year-old went 2-2 with a 5.58 ERA in 10 games, including seven starts.

Falter gave up 12 home runs in 40 innings, which was alarming. However, he also showed just enough promise to make the Pirates believe he could claim a place in the rotation behind Mitch Keller and lefties Martin Perez and Marco Gonzales.

A good moment came on Sept. 12 when Falter allowed one run in six innings while beating the Washington Nationals. However, Falter also – ahem — faltered at times, including when he was hammered for eight runs in two innings by the Cincinnati Reds in his final start on Sept. 23.

However, he made a good enough impression that the Pirates want to see more of him this spring during Grapefruit League play. He started the opener last Saturday against the Minnesota Twins and gave up two runs in two innings.

“I thought he did a really good job, and he did a good job transitioning into a bunch of different roles,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said of Falter’s performance last year. “We had times where we opened for him, times where we started for him. He continued to develop pitches that helped him get both sides of the plate out. Very, very functional, which is important being left-handed.”

Functionality may not be a high compliment. However, it’s doubtful the Phillies would have a positive description after Falter had an 0-7 record and 5.13 ERA in eight games with them last season.

Falter was the Phillies’ fifth-round draft pick in 2015 following his senior year of high school in Chino Hills, Calif., then reached the major leagues in 2021. However, both sides realized last year that Falter’s time in the organization had run its course.

“So far so good,” Falter said of his time with the Pirates. “I think it was the best move for myself personally and also for the Phillies. It was just good to go in our separate directions. They had a good ballclub and it was tough to leave. It’s a tough business but a change of scenery can be good for anybody.

“I’m thankful for the nine years I spent with Philadelphia but I’m on to my next chapter with the Pirates and I’m happy to be here.”

And willing to be the Pirates’ utility pitcher if the need arises.

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