With Painter in limbo, Falter takes lead for rotation spot

Southpaw gets stretched out to 2 1/3 innings as club offers no update on top prospect

March 7th, 2023

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The long wait continues for an official update on ’s health.

In the meantime,  pitched.

Falter allowed two runs, one earned, in 2 1/3 innings Tuesday in the Phillies’ 7-3 loss to the Rays in a Grapefruit League game at BayCare Ballpark. Falter has a clear path to be Philadelphia’s No. 5 starter come Opening Day, after Painter, the team’s top prospect per MLB Pipeline, reported tenderness in his right elbow following his Grapefruit League debut Wednesday against Minnesota in Fort Myers.

The Phillies on Tuesday again offered no information on the severity of Painter’s injury. Multiple sources said that nobody has been told that Painter needs surgery. Another said Monday that “time is what is needed” for him to recover. While everybody hopes that is the case, those sources said nothing has been officially ruled out until the team receives final opinions from doctors.

For what it is worth, Painter has appeared to be in fine spirits since he stopped throwing last week.

“He’s such an important guy in our organization, young, top prospect,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said Tuesday. “We just want to make sure that the information is right.”

If the longer-than-expected wait for an update on the No. 6 prospect in baseball is raising red flags (or anxiety) for fans, it is understandable. It is also partially explainable. The Phillies and Painter indeed want to be certain about the information they have before they move forward with his recovery. And noted orthopedist Neal ElAttrache, who is giving Painter’s medical results a look, has been unavailable the past few days.

Painter, 19, had a chance to be the first teenager to pitch for the Phillies since 1980. It won’t happen now.

Painter turns 20 on April 10, but obviously there are far more important things at stake, like a long and productive career for a pitcher who has turned heads this spring. Twins shortstop Carlos Correa said last week that “I believe this kid’s going to be a star.” Kyle Schwarber said last month, following a live batting practice session at Carpenter Complex, that he was “wowed by the stuff.” 

Everybody has been impressed by Painter’s stuff, poise and how he carries himself.

Painter and Falter entered camp as favorites to be the No. 5 starter. Left-handers and slotted behind them. Thomson on Monday also mentioned right-hander as a possible candidate to make the rotation.

Then there are fellow Phillies pitching prospects Mick Abel (No. 2 in the system) and Griff McGarry (No. 3), but they probably need more seasoning in the Minor Leagues.

“I knew it was going to be a little friendly competition between me and him,” Falter said about Painter. “It sucks to hear what happened to him. We locker right next to each other, so we’ve been talking. I’m here for him. Whatever he needs. I was in a [similar] thing as him when I was 19, 20, 21, not being able to grow into my body properly. He’s getting older, he’s getting stronger. The kid is 19, he throws 100 [mph], so obviously you’re going to run into some problems every now and then. He seems to be in good spirits.”

Falter, 25, went 6-4 with a 3.86 ERA in 20 appearances (16 starts) last season. He replaced Zack Wheeler in the rotation when Wheeler went on the injured list in August. Falter pitched so well that he bumped Noah Syndergaard into the bullpen when Wheeler returned.

Falter went 6-1 with a 3.00 ERA in his final nine starts. He lasted for only two outs in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, which was his only appearance in the postseason.

“It was just a fluke,” he said.

But Falter’s late-season success has him confident that he can replicate it in 2023.

“That was my highest workload,” Falter said. “I threw … 131 innings [including Triple-A], which is the most since 2017. It was a big workload for me, but my body and arm were healthy the whole time. It felt good, so I’m just trying to keep that going. It’s a boost of confidence.”