PHILADELPHIA -- It was a year ago when Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said he would not trade his top pitching prospects, most notably Andrew Painter, because he believed they could contribute to the 2023 rotation.
But Painter’s ascension has been shelved until 2025 at the earliest.
He is expected to have Tommy John surgery on July 26 in Los Angeles, the team announced Wednesday. Painter, 20, had been rehabbing a partial tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament since March 2. He was scheduled to throw a live BP in Clearwater, Fla., earlier this month, when he started to experience soreness in his right elbow. The pain has remained.
“He was right on the verge of being a big league pitcher,” Dombrowski said Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park.
Phillies doctors have recommended a right elbow UCL reconstruction with ulnar nerve transposition surgery. Painter is expected to have the surgery following a consultation on Monday with orthopedist Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles.
“Of course, you’re going to go conservative, follow doctor recommendations,” Dombrowski said. “Nobody wants to have surgery.
“Basically, there’s a scenario where they try to treat it out. … There was a healing process. Some of the results from the imaging -- there has been healing. But it’s still bothering him. You never know that until you go through the process. Unless there’s a complete tear -- and he does not have a complete tear -- there’s many, many pitchers pitching out with rotator cuff tears. It’s more a matter of symptoms of pain. Everybody is different.”
If Painter had the surgery in March -- it is extraordinarily rare for a pitcher with only a partial tear to not try rehab first -- Dombrowski said Painter might have been available to pitch before the end of the 2024 season.
Now he will miss the entire 2024 season.
“Normally, these surgeries, the players come back and do well for themselves,” Dombrowski said. “He’s still very young, has a long future ahead of him. Of course, it hurts the organization. It hurts the team because he could have been a contributor for us. But more importantly for him, I just feel for him. But he’s a youngster. He just turned 20. You start talking about missing next year and coming back in  when he’s 21, 22 years old. [Even] if there’s a little bit of time delay coming back, building his stuff back up, you’re still talking about a very young man who still has a long future ahead of him.”
Painter’s absence adds a wrinkle into the Phillies’ future pitching plans. Aaron Nola will be a free agent following this season. Does he re-sign? Zack Wheeler will be a free agent following the 2024 season. Does he re-sign?
Do pitching prospects Mick Abel and Griff McGarry take steps forward? Do others?
The Phillies hoped Painter would provide insurance for them, but now they cannot expect anything from him until at least 2025. And even then Painter’s workload will be severely limited after not pitching since 2022.
“I know we’ll be looking at him and thinking in 2025 that he has a chance to be in our rotation at that time,” Dombrowski said. “But that’s a long time away.”