FORT MYERS, Fla. “Say this about Andrew Painter: he’s not lacking in confidence.
Making his Grapefruit League debut on Wednesday in the Phillies’ most anticipated spring training game in years, with the opportunity to take the lead in a competition for a rotation spot, Painter pulled out a cutter with which he only started playing this winter. . He recorded a strikeout on the field — against veteran Minnesota Twins outfielder Max Kepler, no less — in the first of two innings at Hammond Stadium.
But Painter mostly threw fastballs in a 29-pitch start over two innings. He only got one swing and missed, but threw 17 strikes. He allowed two hard-hit singles on back-to-back pitches in the second inning and a run on a sacrifice fly.
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And as the 19-year-old phenom left the mound, manager Rob Thomson awaited him on the top step of the dugout with a handshake.
For posterity, Painter took the mound at 1:17 p.m. His first pitch against Twins point guard Joey Gallo clocked in at 98 mph and came high and well out of the strike zone. He gave up a run on three hits, including a fielding single to Twins star Carlos Correa.
Painter’s first strikeout came on a front foot cutter that froze Kepler. Painter mixed the cutter and his slider with a fastball that topped out at 99 mph.
It was the Phillies’ most anticipated spring training game since, well, when?
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. Maybe since March 4, 2010, when Roy Halladay made his first start in spring training for the Phillies. But Doc was already a Cy Young Award winner by then, well established among baseball’s top pitchers.
How about March 5, 2004, when 20-year-old Cole Hamels knocked out Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez back to back? That made news, of course. But no one expected Hamels to make the team that year, and he didn’t. It took two more years before he made his major league debut.
Painter is a strong candidate to fill a vacancy in the Phillies’ starting rotation. His main competitor, southpaw Bailey Falter, was impressive last year as a replacement for injured Zack Wheeler. Falter will start Thursday against the Red Sox in the second half of a two-game road trip to Fort Myers.
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