Bailey Falter stays in rotation, Noah Syndergaard to bullpen

Ethan Sands

By Ethan Sands

ATLANTA — Entering Sunday’s game against the Braves, the Phillies had won each of Bailey Falter‘s last six starts. That streak ended with Philadelphia’s 5-2 loss to Atlanta at Truist Park.

Still, the 25-year-old has held his own over his past six starts, going 5-0 while allowing nine earned runs over 34 1/3 innings for a 2.36 ERA.

In his most recent outing against the Braves, Falter tossed 4 2/3 innings, allowing one run on four hits and two walks while fanning three. He had pitched 31 1/3 innings and faced 119 batters without allowing a walk before walking Dansby Swanson in the third inning. Each of those streaks was the second-longest by a Phillies starter this season, trailing only Aaron Nola, who went 34 2/3 innings and 133 batters without a walk from May 21-June 18.

“I think he’s been just tremendous, the way he’s stepped up when [Zack] Wheeler’s been out,” Noah Syndergaard said.

A potential NL Wild Card Series showdown between the Phillies and the Braves leans in favor of Atlanta after this weekend’s three-game series. Not only because Philadelphia got swept, but the Padres and Brewers both made up ground in the NL Wild Card race this weekend. San Diego moved a half-game ahead of Philadelphia for the No. 5 seed, while Milwaukee is only two games behind the Phils for the final NL Wild Card spot.

“It’s disappointing for sure,” interim manager Rob Thomson said. “But we’ve got to just keep going. I thought, for the most part, we pitched fairly well, played good defense — we just didn’t score many runs.”

Falter began the season in the bullpen, but he gradually worked his way into the rotation. When Wheeler went on the 15-day injured list on Aug. 25 with right forearm tendinitis, Falter had the opportunity to prove himself as the fifth man in the Phillies’ rotation. He stepped up in a big way, and his pitching has grown because of it.

“He’s just comfortable being at this level,” Thomson said. “He’s maturing, so it’s good to see. Earlier in the year, if he started off a little bit slow, it was tough for him to get out of it. Now, he can get out of it. Now, he has a belief that even though he’s not hitting the spots early in the game or throwing strikes early in the game, he’s going to get it.”

Wheeler is set to return on Wednesday against the Blue Jays, but Falter has earned the right to keep his spot in the rotation for the time being. He found out postgame, saying, “That’s awesome. That’s exactly what I’m here to do. That’s great news.”

Falter will slide into Syndergaard’s slot while Syndergaard piggybacks for Wheeler at least the next two times through the rotation.

“Feels good,” Wheeler said about making his return to help the Phillies make a postseason push. “The biggest thing is to feel confident in the arm and feeling confident when you’re out there on the mound.

“It kind of worried me just how late [the injury] happened. So it’s nice to feel good. Definitely back on the right track. … I just want to make it to the playoffs. I’ve never been.”

Syndergaard hasn’t come out of the bullpen in a regular-season game since May 31, 2016. He’s viewing the opportunity as a way to prepare in the event the team needs him to come out of the ‘pen in the postseason or pitch on short rest.

“When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, it’s all hands on deck at that time,” Syndergaard said. “So I’ve got to be able to come back on short rest. I think it’s going to be a good challenge for me. I think it’ll just help solidify how versatile I can be. Especially going into a free-agent year, I think that’s pretty important.”

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