By Phil Sheridan
As experiments go, this was the kind that leaves you with test tube fragments in your hair and a gaping hole in the laboratory wall.
Trying to help starting pitcher Bailey Falter get past his first-inning woes, Phillies manager Rob Thomson decided against anything so basic as letting the big lefthander work on his problems himself. Thomson’s plan: Have relief pitcher Connor Brogdon pitch the first inning and bring Falter in after an inning or two.
It was not a good idea, as illustrated by the Phillies’ 6-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants Monday night in the opener of a 3-game series.
Thomson wound up desperately turning to Falter with 2 outs in the first inning. Brogdon, who “opened” one game in his 130 career appearances, gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases with 2 out. With lefthanded-hitting Brandon Crawford due up, Thomson brought in Falter.
Instead of facing the top of the order with no one on base, Falter was facing a veteran All-Star with the bases loaded. And what do you know? Falter struck Crawford out to end the threat. So no harm, no foul, right?
As Ricky Bottalico pointed out on the pregame show, whenever Falter comes in, that’s the first inning for him. The bottom of the second appeared to be the first inning – ever – for Falter and his teammates.
After Falter gave up a couple of singles, second baseman Bryson Stott forgot to keep his glove open until the ball is actually in it. This was on a potential double play-starting throw from shortstop Trea Turner. It was Stott’s first error of the season. But that was just the warmup act.
With the bases loaded, the Giants’ Wilmer Flores stroked a line drive to right field. Nick Castellano held his glove out but had the same procedural difficulty as Stott. The ball bounced off his closed glove. Castellanos was able to pick up the ball and throw out the runner who had stayed at first expecting Castellanos to catch the ball.
That came up huge when Falter gave up a 3-run home run to Michael Conforto on his next pitch. That was the first of four consecutive hits Falter surrendered. When the smoke cleared and the glass bits were all over and there was a big old hole in the wall. Falter had given up 6 runs on 6 hits. The Phillies’ early 2-0 lead was a distant memory.
“I don’t think he was executing that inning,” Thomson said.
But at least Falter’s first-inning ERA wasn’t a problem! Success!
In fairness, Thomson wasn’t wrong to identify Falter’s vulnerability. After that second-inning generosity, Falter did pitch the way Thomson envisioned when he decided to delay his entry into the game. Falter did not allow another run in 3 more innings of work. He gave up a triple to Thairo Estrada in the third and a double to Casey Schmitt in the fifth.
“Credit to him, he settled in and gave us a little bit of life,” Thomson said. “He didn’t give up another run. He kind of kept us right there.”
Thomson said no decision has been made on Falter’s next start.
The question is whether Falter would have been better off just working through his early-inning woes from the mound instead of the bullpen. As it turned out, he was singled out as the guy who needs a teammate to start his game, and then gave up 6 runs in his first full inning of work. Meanwhile, the Phillies fell behind 6-2 early and were never really able to get back into it. Which just goes to show you, as Bailey Falters, so falter the Phillies.