LOS ANGELES — Bailey Falter sat Monday night on a folding chair in the visiting bullpen at Dodger Stadium as the type of situation he flew to California to handle unfolded 360 feet away.
The Phillies promoted Falter before a 3-1 loss to the Dodgers to work in tandem with Spencer Howard as a “piggyback” reliever. Howard, the Phillies hoped, would give them a few innings before they turned to Falter.
But Falter remained seated when Howard’s command started to waver in the fourth inning. Howard walked Mookie Betts, allowed a two-run homer to Will Smith, and threw 27 pitches to record three outs.
He finished the inning with a strikeout and gave the Phillies four innings, which seemed to be what they were hoping for.
The fifth appeared like the time for the Phillies to insert Falter. But the pitcher’s spot was due up in the sixth and Joe Girardi said he wanted to avoid a double switch. So his options for the fifth were leaving in Howard or inserting Connor Brogdon.
Girardi rolled with Howard, hoping the pitcher could give the Phillies one more inning. Instead, he lasted just one batter as Chris Taylor started the fifth with a homer to left.
“I think, overall, it’s a step in the right direction,” said Howard, who struck out four and allowed two hits, both of which were homers. “Holding mechanics a little bit longer. I think it was later in the game, it was a matter of flicking in more off-speed for strikes to get them off the heater. These guys aren’t going to miss fastballs down the middle. Both home run pitches, I just backed myself into a corner. They know the fastball is coming and then miss, too much of the plate.”
The Phillies are watching Howard’s workload this season as they try to ease the right-hander after two injury-shortened seasons. Instead of turning to the bullpen after his shortened starts, the Phillies are employing a “piggyback” approach where a designated reliever is ready to be employed once Howard is finished.
They used Ranger Suarez in that role before moving the lefthander to the back of their bullpen after he allowed just one run in 21⅓ innings. That led them to promote the left-handed Falter — a starter at triple A — as the Phillies are committed to having him and Howard practically share the fifth spot in the rotation.
“We have not given up a lot of runs,” Girardi said of the team’s “piggyback” games. “I definitely think it can work.”
It may have worked even better on Monday if the Phillies went a batter early to their bullpen. Brogdon retired the three batters he faced after relieving Howard following Taylor’s homer. And Falter, who had a 1.82 ERA at triple A, allowed just one hit in three scoreless innings.
Taylor’s homer put the Phillies in what seemed like an insurmountable two-run hole as the offense struggled to deliver a big hit. Perhaps that deficit stays at one run if Brogdon or Falter start the fifth. Instead, they watched from 360 feet away.
“He struck out Matt Beaty and looked pretty good there,” Girardi said of Howard’s strike out to end the fourth. “So I said ‘You know what, I’m going to see.’ I had Brogdon ready and he gave up another home run.”
Taylor’s home run would not have felt so crushing if the Phillies were able to cash in on their own chances. They scored just one run, but wasn’t for a lack of opportunities. The Phillies went just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base.
The Phillies outhit the Dodgers, 8-3, but that meant little when two of LA’s three hits were homers. The Phils scored their lone run in the first inning but ended the inning with the bases loaded. They left the bases loaded again in the fourth.
“It’s tough. I don’t think we got much help from the umpire in the one inning with Spencer Howard and Ronald Torreyes and that’s pretty frustrating,” Girardi said of the two strikeouts in the fourth with two runners on. “We got some opportunities and we didn’t cash in on them. That’s the difference in the game.”
Time to rest Hoskins?
Phillies manager Joe Girardi could be inclined to give Rhys Hoskins a day off after he went 0-for-4 to continue a difficult month. Hoskins is hitless in his last 30 at-bats with his last hit coming on June 5. His 0-for-30 slump is the longest by a Phillies player since 2015 when Ryan Howard went 0-for-35.
“You could think about it,” Girardi said before the game about sitting Hoskins. “… People sometimes say, ‘If you change, if you change.’ If you change every time and try to hit the right guy, it’s hard to do. So I think consistency is important for these guys.”
Before his slump, Hoskins was hitting .338 with a 1.013 OPS as he was the team’s hottest hitter for a large stretch of the season.
“Before this period, Rhys was the guy that was carrying us,” Girardi said. “So he’s just in a little funk. He’ll come out of it. I’m not worried about that.”
What was that?
Howard picked up his first strikeout with a 73.2 mph curveball that froze Mookie Betts. The slow-curve broke with a steep drop and Betts — one of baseball’s premier hitters — could only watch it.
“Every once in a while,” Howard said of throwing the looping curve. “I’m not intentionally trying to make it super slow but I have been getting a little bit too obsessed with getting perfect rotation on the ball. So that makes my arm slot rise a little bit and get less whippy. But at the end of the day, if I just rip it and throw it with intent, that would be a little bit sharper.”
Zach Eflin starts Tuesday (10:10 p.m.) vs. Dodgers lefthander Julio Urias. It could be a chance for Girardi to start Luke Williams, who has been out of the lineup for three straight games. Williams was used Monday night as a pinch-hitter when the Dodgers inserted left-handed reliever Victor Gonzalez. Williams, who grew up outside LA, dropped a two-out single into center, much to the delight of the large group of family and fans that sat behind the Phils’ dugout.