The Phillies are back in action tonight after Thursday’s off day, but remember that the games this weekend in San Francisco are being aired exclusively on Peacock for the first time. Bryce Harper is expected to be back in the lineup as the Phils face Gabe Kapler’s Giants, owners of the National League’s best record. And if you need help getting the game on Peacock, read this.
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Bailey Falter’s fastball looks faster than the radar guns say it is
When Bailey Falter pitched against other Phillies minor leaguers in spring training, the hitters were often left wondering why they couldn’t catch up to the left-hander’s low-90s fastball.
“‘Man, you’re only throwing like 91-92, but it’s looking like 95-96,’” the 24-year-old Falter said he would hear. “And I’m like, ‘Well, I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason I’m here.’ ”
Falter, who rejoined the Phillies this week to pitch in a “piggyback” role with Spencer Howard, does not light up radar guns, but that’s not the best way to judge the speed of his fastball.
The 6-foot-4 pitcher throws with a long stride that gives him the longest average release extension — 7 feet, 6 inches — in the majors. His sinker averaged just 91.9 mph Monday night, but his long extension makes the pitch look much faster to a hitter.
“If I throw a ball 90, it looks to a hitter like 93,” said Falter, a fifth-round pick in the 2015 draft out of Chino Hills (Calif.) High School. “I’ve always thrown like that. They tried to get me to shorten up a little bit, but it never felt comfortable. I feel like with my extensions and the stuff I throw, it just plays so well and it’s difficult for the hitters. I’ve thrown like this my entire life, and I guess these guys saw something that they liked and haven’t really changed up my mechanics that much, so I’m pretty grateful for that.”
Falter pitched three shutout innings Monday night and allowed just one hit against the Dodgers. It was the first time the Phillies used him in his new role, which he will likely try again Sunday after Howard pitches the first few innings of a series finale in San Francisco.
Howard is not expected to pitch more than five innings in a start this season, so the Phillies are approaching his start by committing two pitchers to the game. Ranger Suárez pitched in tandem with Howard before he was moved this week to a late-inning role.
Falter had a 1.82 ERA this season at triple A and struck out 12.7 batters per nine innings to put himself on the major league radar. The Phillies didn’t have a rotation vacancy, but they are still able to pitch Falter every fifth day when they piggyback him with Howard. Phillies manager Joe Girardi told the pitcher to prepare during the week as if he was a starting pitcher.
“I’m absolutely fine with this role,” Falter said. “If they want me to start, piggyback Howard, or come in behind whoever, I’m absolutely fine with that.”
Falter generated weak contact Monday night by throwing his fastball and sinker, which seemed to play up against a tough lineup despite sitting in the low-90s. He retired nine of the 10 batters he faced, and seven of the nine outs came on sinkers or fastballs. The radar gun wasn’t blown away, but the Dodgers — including two at-bats by Mookie Betts that ended with infield pop-ups — had trouble picking it up.
“He has deception,” Girardi said. “It’s funky. His extension of the ball gets on you quicker. It’s like David Robertson. He had great extension, so his fastball played up.”
The Phillies told Falter last week that he was being scratched from his triple-A start so he could pitch in relief as a dry run for the role he assumed Monday night at Dodger Stadium. Two days later, they told him he was going to the majors.
Falter spent a few days with the Phillies earlier this season, but this time felt different. He wasn’t just an extra arm called up in a pinch. He had a defined role. He grew up 40 minutes from Dodger Stadium, and Falter said the last time he had been in the ballpark, he was sitting in the nosebleeds.
So it was surreal, he said, to find himself on the mound. But it didn’t look like the stage fazed him. And his fastball looked the part.
“I feel like I have a set position here, but it’s still too early to know all that,” Falter said. “I do feel like I have more of a purpose this time up compared to last time.”
Bryce Harper is expected to play vs. the Giants despite a lingering back injury.
Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius has pseudogout in his right elbow, but could return next week.
Zack Wheeler’s slider — or is it a cutter? — has helped him become one of baseball’s best pitchers.
Phillies rookie Luke Williams has a good reason for wearing a Brooklyn Nets jersey.
Tonight: Vince Velasquez faces Johnny Cueto in series opener in San Francisco, 9:45 p.m.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola starts against left-hander Alex Wood, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Howard finishes the series in San Fran, 4:05 p.m.
Monday: Phillies are off.
Tuesday: Wheeler opens series at home vs. Nationals, 7:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
Wheeler’s six innings Wednesday night boosted his 2021 total to 96 1/3 innings, the most by any pitcher this season. He’s averaging nearly seven innings per start and is on track to pitch roughly 220 innings. If Wheeler reaches 220, he’ll be the first Phillies pitcher to do so since Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee did it in 2013. Roy Halladay is the last Phillies pitcher to lead the majors in innings, which he did in 2010 with 250 2/3.
“It’s concerning for us a little bit,” Girardi said of Wheeler’s usage. “You would like to manipulate the All-Star break a little bit, but he might be pitching in that as well. I don’t know. We just have to be smart about it, and we’ll see what happens.”
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: Who do you think the Phillies All Stars will be? — Danny G. via email
Answer: Thanks, Danny. I think Wheeler is a lock and there’s a chance that he could start for the National League. Jacob deGrom is the obviously the favorite for that nod, but he has to stay healthy. Kevin Gausman has been excellent for the Giants, and he’s right there with Wheeler.
I think that’s all the Phillies will get this year. Jean Segura looked like an All-Star, but I think his groin injury spoils his chances. The Phils have had just one All-Star — the minimum each team is required to have — for six straight seasons. It looks like it’ll stay that way for a seventh straight year.