Andrew Painter (UCL sprain) to rest for 4 weeks

March 10th, 2023

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Andrew Painter does not need surgery.

He needs rest.

The Phillies announced Friday morning that Painter, who is MLB’s No. 6 prospect, has a sprained right proximal ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, which he suffered after making his Grapefruit League debut on March 1 against the Twins in Fort Myers, Fla. The Phillies had not announced the results from an MRI exam taken two days later until Friday, because a second opinion had been requested from orthopedist Neal ElAttrache, who was unavailable the previous several days.

ElAttrache confirmed the Phillies’ findings, clearing a path for Painter to pitch this season.

“It’s pretty mild,” Painter said about the tear. “It’s something we’re going to take cautiously and make sure we don’t rush anything to save any future concerns.”

Future concerns like surgery.

Painter said he is “pretty confident” rest and rehab will allow him to avoid surgery. The Phillies are, too. The shared confidence might come from the fact Painter suffered a proximal UCL tear, rather than a distal UCL tear. Essentially, the location of Painter’s injury is important. In a 2017 Cleveland Clinic study, 17 of 19 pitchers (89.5 percent) with partial proximal tears returned to pitch without surgery, while only 4 of 13 pitchers (30.8 percent) with distal tears did.

“You look at ElAttrache,” Painter said. “That guy’s one of the best at what he does. For him to come out and say, after getting a good look at it, we’re going to rest it -- he’s dealt with stuff like this before. I don’t think he would recommend that if he wasn’t confident it was going to work.”

Painter said he “absolutely” expects to pitch competitively this season, and potentially for the Phillies. He will rest for four weeks from the date of the injury, a period that would run until March 29. Then he will begin a light tossing program.

“Obviously it’s a bummer,” he said. “You want to stay healthy. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to do what’s right for the long term. It’s a long season, so we’ve got to take the precautions now and make sure I’m healthy from the middle toward the end of the year.”

Painter, 19, entered camp as perhaps the frontrunner to be the team’s No. 5 starter. His injury leaves left-handers Bailey Falter, Cristopher Sánchez and Michael Plassmeyer and right-hander Nick Nelson in competition for that spot.

Perhaps the Phillies will need to fill two spots. Left-hander Ranger Suárez just came back from the World Baseball Classic on Friday because of tightness in his left forearm. Suárez and the Phillies are confident that the issue is not serious, so there is a chance he will pitch as expected the first week of the season.

Time will tell.

But the feeling in Phillies camp the past several days, despite the delayed second opinion, is that Painter had avoided a worst-case scenario.

Some in camp even said this could be a blessing in disguise.

Maybe it will be.

“There’s silver linings to everything,” Phillies pitching coach Caleb Cotham said. “I think for Andy, I know he wants to pitch. He gets a chance to invest in a portion of the work now and really focus on the body a little bit. You try to find wins in any scenario.”

Nobody wants to push Painter to the point that he breaks. There are too many examples of young pitchers throwing too many pitches and innings early in their careers, then blowing out or suffering steep declines in performance. The Phillies, however, thought they had a plan that could get Painter from the beginning of the season to the end. But now that he is sidelined for a few months, whenever he returns there might be fewer restrictions placed upon him.

“I believe this probably makes that [plan] a little easier,” Painter said.

“Maybe that’s a little easier,” Cotham said. “We just want him to focus on this, and we’ll get there when we get there.”

Painter said he was always confident that ElAttrache would confirm what the Phillies found. But the long delay caused plenty of concern and speculation.

“It’s been interesting,” Painter said. “I’ve been fine. I haven’t been too worried about it. I know with our medical staff and everyone who’s kind of had a say in this, they’re very experienced. They’re good at what they do. I know they know what they’re doing.”