The Phillies announced Friday morning that Painter, who is the No. 6 MLB prospect, had a sprained right proximal ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, which he felt after making his Grapefruit League debut on 1st. march against the Twins in Fort Myers, Florida. The Phillies had not announced the results of an MRI scan taken two days later until Friday, as a second opinion had been sought from orthopedic surgeon Neal ElAttrache, who was unavailable the previous days.
ElAttrache confirmed the Phillies’ findings, paving the way for Painter to kick off this season.
“It’s pretty sweet,” Painter said of the tear. “It’s something we’ll take with caution and make sure we don’t rush anything to avoid any future problems.”
Future concerns like surgery.
Painter said he’s “pretty confident” that rest and rehabilitation will allow him to avoid surgery. He will rest for four weeks from the date of the injury, a period that will continue until March 29, and then begin a light throwing program.
“You look at ElAttrache,” Painter said. “This guy is one of the best at what he does. For him to come out and say, after we take a good look at it, we’re going to rest – he’s dealt with things like this before. I don’t think he would recommend this if he wasn’t sure it would work.
Painter said he “absolutely” expects to pitch competitively this season, and potentially for the Phillies.
“Obviously it’s a disappointment,” he said. “You want to stay healthy. But at the end of the day, we have to do what’s right in the long run. It’s a long season, so we have to take the precautions now and make sure I’m healthy through the middle to the end of the year.
Painter, 19, entered camp as perhaps the favorite to be the team’s No. 5 starter. His injury leaves left-handers Bailey Falter, Cristopher Sánchez and Michael Plassmeyer and right-hander Nick Nelson competing for that spot.
Perhaps they will have to fill two places. Southpaw Ranger Suárez just returned from the World Baseball Classic on Friday due to tightness in his left forearm. Suarez and the Phillies are confident the problem isn’t serious, so there’s a chance he’ll kick off as planned in the first week of the season.
The feeling in the Phillies camp these days, despite the delayed second opinion, is that Painter had avoided the worst-case scenario.
Many think it’s a blessing in disguise.
Nobody wants to push Painter to the point that he breaks. There are many examples of young pitchers throwing too many pitches and innings early in their careers and then huffing or suffering severe drops in performance. The Phillies thought they had a plan that could get Painter through the season. But now that he’s been sidelined for a few months, whenever he returns there may be fewer restrictions placed on his workload.
“I think that probably makes this (plan) a little bit easier,” Painter said.
Painter said he was still confident ElAttrache would confirm what the Phillies found. But the long delay has sparked a lot of concern and speculation.
“It was interesting,” Painter said. ” I’m doing well. I didn’t worry too much about it. I know with our medical staff and everyone who has had a say in this, they have a lot of experience. They are good at what they do. I know they know what they are doing.