Touching 99 mph, Painter earns widespread praise
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- This is just the start.
Phillies prospect Andrew Painter fired a 99 mph fastball to Carlos Correa in the first inning Wednesday afternoon at Hammond Stadium. The pitch looked effortless coming out of his right hand. Painter threw Max Kepler a nasty 2-2 cutter in the first. Kepler awkwardly tried and failed to check his swing, and the pitch went for strike three. But in the second, Painter threw a couple of fastballs down the middle of the plate, which Christian Vázquez and Nick Gordon hit hard for singles, with a run then scoring on Kyle Farmer's sacrifice fly to left.
It was not perfect, but it was promising. Everybody saw it.
“I believe this kid’s going to be a star,” Correa said.
“There’s a lot more in there,” Garrett Stubbs said.
Painter is keeping his cool with everybody watching him this spring. He is 19, but he does not act like it. Everybody says it.
“Is that how old he is?” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Nineteen?”
“I told Correa at first, ‘Do you know what I was doing at 19? Running morning runs at junior college trying to make a college team,’” Phillies first baseman Darick Hall said. “That dude is on the cusp of being in the big leagues.”
Painter’s combination of immense talent, uncommon composure and quiet confidence has him competing to be the No. 5 starter for the defending National League champions. He allowed three hits and one run in his Grapefruit League debut, the first of several opportunities he will get this month.
Everybody expects Painter to be better next time, including himself.
“Felt pretty good,” Painter said. “Felt satisfied with the cutters I threw. It was pretty fastball-heavy today. I would’ve liked to have been in the zone a little more -- that’s something to build off of heading into the next start. But really trying to focus on getting ahead early, I fell behind in a lot of counts, getting to hitter’s counts.”
Painter threw 19 fastballs, six cutters, three sliders and a curveball to the eight batters he faced. He did not throw his changeup.
“All first-pitch fastballs, so there’s some work we have to do there and mix a little better earlier in the count,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “But poise, you can see the poise.”
“I probably babied him a little bit more [catching him] than he needed out there,” Stubbs said. “He’s got more in there.”
Stubbs said strike three to Kepler was his favorite pitch of the day. Painter only started throwing his cutter this offseason.
“I don’t think that he has ever done that before,” Stubbs said. “When he came in, he said, ‘That was a pretty good pitch, huh?’ And I think he was looking for a little bit of affirmation. Obviously, I don't think he really needed it after watching the result.”
There were other glimpses of what might be. Painter started Correa with a 98.9 mph fastball, which was fouled off. He threw a 99 mph fastball for strike two. They were Painter’s two hardest pitches of the afternoon.
“He’s pretty good at what he does, so [I was] just trying to get it by him,” Painter said, smiling.
Painter threw a couple of sliders for balls to even the count before Correa hit a 2-2 cutter for an infield hit.
“I know he got a hit off of it, but it wasn't good contact [at 82.4 mph exit velocity],” Stubbs said. “But just the fact that Carlos Correa, a guy of that caliber, takes two different kinds of swings on two pitches that are supposed to be similar [fastball and cutter], but they're not. The slider looked a lot bigger and slower. And the cutter was firmer with still a lot of movement. Against a guy like that, weak contact to short.”
Correa knew Painter before he stepped into the batter’s box. He met with the Phillies this offseason before they signed Trea Turner, and before he ultimately re-signed with Minnesota.
Correa said he researched the Phillies’ farm system.
“I didn’t want to go to a team where I was going to just lose and never make the playoffs ever again,” Correa said. “I knew who he was. He’s a [Scott] Boras guy, too. Boras told me to take it easy on him, so I only hit a single. No, he’s got a lot of potential. He’s got electric stuff. He’s going to be in the big leagues pretty soon, and that’s exciting at a young age with all that potential. He’s got a great mound presence. … He’s mature beyond his years. Pounded the zone, not afraid of anyone, just going out there and throwing strikes. Very special.”