FORT MYERS, Fla. — When Andrew Painter returned to the dugout Wednesday after the first of two innings in the most anticipated Phillies spring training game in years, he plopped down on the bench and asked the catcher Garrett Stubbs an opinion.
“That was a really good pitch, huh?” said the painter.
Stubbs knew right away what the 19-year-old phenom was about. Painter threw a diving two-hit cutter that broke veteran Twins outfielder Max Kepler’s back foot in the left-handed batter’s box for a called third strike.
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It would have been “a very good pitch” under any circumstances. But Painter didn’t start playing with a box cutter until the offseason. And it was the first time he started a spring training game in the major leagues.
So, yeah, it was impressive, so much so that Phillies manager Rob Thomson wished he’d seen more grounds like this. Let’s come back to that in a minute. First, Stubbs’ thoughts.
“I think he was looking for a little assertiveness, and obviously I don’t think he really needed it after seeing the result,” Stubbs said. “Yeah, that was a really good pitch. It was probably one of my favorites. I don’t think he’s ever done that before. (Kepler) looked really uncomfortable, especially having seen radiators before this.
The painter threw mainly heaters – 19, to be exact, on 29 locations. He faced eight hitters and started them all with fastballs. He mixed six of these still-in-development knives and four sliders. He left the curveball and change in his bag, an omission Stubbs called “typical” in the first two innings of a first spring start.
Overall, on first start it was fine. Painter allowed one run on three hits, including back-to-back singles by Christian Vázquez and Nick Gordon to open the second inning and a sacrificial fly by Nick Farmer. He ordered his fastball and, especially on March 1, came out healthy.
“It was fun to watch,” said Vázquez, a veteran major league catcher. “I love it.”
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Twins star shortstop Carlos Correa made similar remarks to first baseman Darick Hall after knocking down a two-hit cutter for a field single. Phillies outfielder Jake Cave, who has spent the past five years with Minnesota, said he’s already received text messages from former teammates impressed with Painter.
“It’s no surprise,” Cave said. “He is a presence on the mound. He throws a few different pitches. In my mind, it’s a no-brainer. If a guy like that is healthy, he’s going to produce. It would take a lot not to be stoned on him right now.
But Painter was credited with getting just one swing and missing. Lightning did not shoot from his right arm. He made a great first impression in the competition for the last spot in the Phillies’ rotation. But when you’ve been crowned by Baseball America as the sport’s best pitcher, when the team’s billionaire owner rushes into the confines of the spring training complex to watch your first bullpen session, expectations tend to be increased. impossible levels.
Take this as a reminder, then, that Painter, much like most casters 10 and 15 years older than him, is working on things, especially making better use of his five slots. Painter explained that he struggled to command his fastball at the start of the count, which prevented him from reaching his off-speed throws later. It’s part of the balance between process and results that pitchers have to find when trying to put together a team.
“He threw a lot of strikes with his fastball, basically a cutter fastball,” Thomson said. “He threw a few sliders, but he threw no changes or curveballs and all the first pitch fastballs. So there’s work we need to do there and mix it up a little better earlier in the count. But you can see the balance. It was really good. I thought he was good.
It was the most publicized Phillies spring training game since, well, when?
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At least since March 9, 2019, when Bryce Harper played his first game for the Red Phillies. But that only came a week after he was introduced in a dugout-top press conference that was, in some ways, at least as dramatic.
Possibly since March 4, 2020, when Roy Halladay made his first start in spring training for the Phillies. But Doc was already a Cy Young Award winner by then. And Cole Hamels was still two years away from his major league debut when he first took the mound in a Grapefruit League game on March 5, 2004 and knocked out Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez back to back.
For posterity, Painter took the mound at 1:17 p.m. His first pitch against lead Joey Gallo scored at 98 mph and came high and well out of the strike zone.
“Not too bad,” said Painter, whose parents, Pete and Leslie, made the trip from Florida’s east coast. “I kind of blocked it all out. I’ve played on this court before, so it was a bit like when I was down A. It was a bit of a mindset. It was a chance for me to get out there and show stuff and work on stuff.
Like most players in the baseball world, Twins hitters have heard of Painter before they’ve seen him.
“Guys were talking before, ‘Hey, we’re going to face this big (prospect),'” Vázquez said. ” It is very big. He looks great on the mound. And he was throwing 98-99 today. Throw hard. It’s like on you. It was funny to watch.”
Imagine when Painter starts throwing its full range of slots.
“You’ve seen a bit of what he can do, and I think there’s a lot more to it,” Stubbs said. “I felt like we hadn’t even gotten to the point where he could probably get. I probably coddled him a little more than he needed there. He’s got more there- in. But he did very well.”
And it should only get better.
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