CLEARWATER, Fla. — Around 11:40 a.m. Wednesday, Bailey Falter leaned against the chain-link fence that surrounds Robin Roberts Field.
“I’m here to watch my competition,” the Phillies pitcher said with a laugh.
He was not alone. Dozens of players, team officials and reporters stood along the dirt, on the grass, in the dugouts, behind the fence, all hoping to catch a glimpse of 19-year-old Phillies pitching phenom Andrew Painter .
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It was a big day for Painter. He was facing major league hitters for the first time this spring, and some good major league hitters: Kyle Schwarber, Brandon Marsh and John Hicks. His teammates decided to greet him with some good-natured taunts.
“Is this guy any good?” Rhys Hoskins asked sarcastically.
Marsh entered the box.
“Leave it in the middle, Paint,” he bellowed at the mound.
The painter did not do this. He punched Marsh hard, who was barking at Painter between swings. Next up was Schwarber, who gave good feedback during his at bat. After a few throws, Painter threw his cutter at him, which he recently added to his arsenal.
“It’s a bit slider right now,” Schwarber shouted at Painter.
The painter did not want that. He nodded in agreement. He tried to throw it again, and this time it went slightly away from the side of Painter’s arm.
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“There you go,” Schwarber said.
In Painter’s first three hits, he knocked out Marsh, Schwarber, and Hicks. The next round didn’t go so well. He tried to bury a curveball against Schwarber, but it came off his hand too high. He knew instantly that he had made a mistake.
“Oh my God,” thought Painter.
Sure enough, Schwarber pounced, tossing the curve ball out of the stadium to the cheers of his teammates.
Schwarber, laughing as he exited the box, galloped along the first baseline in celebration, waving his helmet around like a lasso.
“One for two with a bomb is a bad day,” Painter later joked. “I would say he is winning right now.”
Manager Rob Thomson, who was standing off to the side, watched the mound and was relieved to see his young pitcher smiling. It was clear to Thomson that Painter is mature beyond his years. He understood that mistakes would happen – and he wouldn’t let them shake him.
Hoskins noticed it too. He was impressed with Painter’s balance. It wasn’t just that he had speed — receiver Garrett Stubbs estimated Painter hit 99 or 100 mph on Wednesday — but that he was able to adapt. If Painter missed high with his fastball, he could come right back and throw it for a strike. If his knife moved like a slider, he could come right back and throw it like a knife.
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Marsh, who faced him twice on Wednesday, said Painter reminded him of Zack Wheeler.
“It’s a big ass up there, you know?” Marsh said of the 6ft 7in painter. “He looks like he’s just putting the ball up there at a very, very high speed. He’s got good extension, kind of like a Wheeler type. He’s a long, tall guy. He’s going to be really , really, really good.
“He certainly doesn’t look 19 – or act 19.”
As Stubbs was quick to remind reporters, this was just a live bullpen session on a backcourt. But Painter has the rare ability to make the mundane exciting. His enclosure sessions are an event. Some reporters even gathered to watch him make long throws.
It’s hard to blame them. We might be witnessing something historic, after all.