FORT MYERS, Fla. — When Andrew Painter returned to the dugout Wednesday after the first of his two innings in the most anticipated Phillies spring training game in years, he fell to the bench and asked catcher Garrett Stubbs for his opinion.
“It was a good move, wasn’t it?” said the painter.
Stubbs knew instantly about that 19-year-old phenom she was talking about. Painter threw a dirt-dipping double-hitting cutter that broke on the back foot of Twins veteran hitter Max Kepler into the left batter’s box for a so-called third strike.
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It would have been a “very good show” under any circumstances. But the painter is only beginning to tinker with a cutter in the off-season. It was the first time he ever started a major league spring training game.
So yeah, it was so impressive, that Phillies coach Rob Thompson wished he’d seen other stadiums like it. Back to that in a minute. First, Stubbs’ thoughts.
“I think he was looking for a little bit of reassurance, and obviously I don’t think he really needed it after seeing the result,” said Stubbs. “Yeah, that pitch was really good. That was probably one of my favorite things. I don’t think he’s done that before.” [Kepler] It sure looked uncomfortable, especially after seeing the geysers before.”
Paint threw the geysers mostly—19, to be exact, out of 29 degrees. He faced eight players and started them all with fastballs. He mixed six of those still-developing cutters and four sliders. He left the curveball and changeup in his bag, an omission that Stubbs referred to as “typical” of the first two innings of his early spring starts.
In general, at first it was fine. Painter gave up one run on three hits, including back-to-back singles by Christian Vasquez and Nick Gordon to open the second inning and a sacrifice bunt by Nick Farmer. He drove the fastball, and more importantly on March 1, he came out healthy.
“It was fun to watch,” said Vazquez, the veteran major league catcher. “I love him.”
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Twins star shortstop Carlos Correa made similar remarks to first baseman Darrick Hall after he rolled on a breaker with a two-for-one hit. Phillies quarterback Jake Cave, who has spent the past five years with Minnesota, said he already had text messages from former teammates who admired Painter.
“It’s not surprising,” he said. “He’s on the mound. He throws a few different pitches. In my opinion, he’s a no-brainer. If a guy like that was healthy, he’d produce. It would take a lot for you not to be high on him now.”
But the painter was credited with only one swing. Lightning did not shoot from his right arm. He made a good impression in contention for last place in the Phillies tournament. But when you’re crowned by Baseball America as the sport’s most valuable player, when the team’s billionaire owner rushes to the backwaters of the spring training complex to watch their first bullpen session, expectations tend to escalate to impossible levels.
Consider this a reminder, then, that Painter, just like most pitchers 10- and 15-plus, is working on things, specifically making better use of all five pitches. Painter explained that he struggled with driving his fastball early in the charges, which prevented him from reaching his off-fast pitches later on. It’s part of the process versus outcome balance that shooters have to find when trying to team up.
“He threw a lot of batters with the fastball, basically cutting the fastball,” said Thompson. “He threw a couple of sliders, but he didn’t throw any changeups or curveballs and all the fastballs on the first pitch. So there’s some work we need to do there and mix it up a little bit better early in the count. But you can see the poise. It was good.” Really. I thought it was good.”
It was the Phillies’ hottest 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 Phillies redshirt. But it came just a week after he was presented at a top-level press conference that was, in some ways, at least dramatic.
Possibly since March 4, 2020, when Roy Halladay made his first spring training start with the Phillies. But Doc was already a Cy Young Award winner by then. And Cole Hummels was still two years away from his major league debut when he took the mound for the first time in a Grapefruit League game on March 5, 2004, hitting Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez back-to-back.
For posterity, Painter took the mound at 1:17 p.m., hitting his first pitch to lead man Joey Gallo at 98 mph and came on high and out of the strike zone.
“Not too bad,” said Pinter, whose parents, Pete and Leslie, drive from Florida’s east coast. “It just kind of blocked everything out. I’d played on the field before, so I felt like I was on a low level.
Like most of the baseball world, the Twins hitters had heard of Painter before they had seen him.
“Guys have been talking before, ‘Hey, we’re going to have this big thing [prospect]Vasquez said. “He’s so tall. He looks big on the mound. And he’s throwing 98-99 today. He throws hard. He looks just like you. It was fun to watch.”
Imagine when the Painter starts throwing in his full set of pitches.
“I’ve seen a little bit of what he can do, and I think there’s a lot out there,” Stubbs said. “I felt like we weren’t even at the point where he could probably get to it. I might have been feeding him a little more than he needs there. He has more in there. But he did well.”
And it should only get better.
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“Student. Incurable problem solver. Amateur baconaholic. Introvert. Infuriatingly humble music fanatic.”