As Painter's elbow issue lingers, options arise for No. 5 starter spot
SARASOTA, Fla. -- It would have been such a fun story to have Andrew Painter make the Phillies’ Opening Day roster.
It feels like a pipe dream now.
The Phillies offered no update on Painter’s tender right elbow again on Monday, following an eye-popping Grapefruit League debut last Wednesday in Fort Myers. Painter, who is MLB's No. 6 prospect, showed enough stuff against Minnesota that Twins shortstop Carlos Correa proclaimed, “I believe this kid’s going to be a star.”
Based on conversations with people about Painter on Monday, there does not seem to be serious concern about his long-term health. But because he is a supremely talented 19-year-old, the Phillies want to handle Painter with care, meaning there is no reason to rush him back.
Painter’s setback -- he has not thrown a baseball since Wednesday -- puts left-hander Bailey Falter in the driver’s seat to be the team’s No. 5 starter on Opening Day.
The Phillies will need more than five or six starters, of course. They used 10 last year, although two of them (Nick Nelson and Andrew Bellatti) were full-time relievers who started as openers. Philadelphia has used no fewer than nine starters in any season since 2011.
Behind Falter are left-handers Cristopher Sánchez and Michael Plassmeyer. Phillies manager Rob Thomson said Nelson also is in the mix.
“I’m pretty comfortable,” Thomson said about the team’s starting-pitching depth. “We’ve got some options. I really believe that.”
Sánchez will make his spring debut on Tuesday against the Rays in Clearwater. He has not pitched this spring because of a back issue earlier in camp.
Plassmeyer allowed two hits over 2 1/3 scoreless innings Monday in a 10-7 loss to the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium after pitching three scoreless innings in his first two spring appearances combined.
The 26-year-old has impressed the Phillies since he joined the organization last summer, when the Giants traded him for Triple-A catcher Austin Wynns. Plassmeyer had a 7.38 ERA in 11 appearances (10 starts) last season with Triple-A Sacramento, then he righted himself with improved mechanics in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, posting a 2.41 ERA in 16 starts.
Plassmeyer made two appearances for the Phillies last year, allowing three runs in 7 1/3 innings. His big league debut came on Aug. 23 with the bases loaded and two outs against the Reds.
He struck out Austin Romine to end the inning.
Plassmeyer then allowed three runs in six innings against Houston on Oct. 5, the final day of the regular season. It was a meaningless game, but it impressed Thomson and others.
“The moment’s not too big,” Thomson said about Plassmeyer. “He just has no heartbeat. He throws strikes.”
Strikes are key, because Plassmeyer does not throw hard. Last season, his four-seam fastball averaged 89.2 mph. He also throws a changeup and slider, and this spring he is incorporating a cutter and two-seam fastball.
“For me, not being a 97 mph guy, the more pitches the better,” Plassmeyer said. “Just another thing to put in those hitters’ heads, really.”
Plassmeyer just wants to be ready. He never knows when he will get his opportunity.
“It’s really out of my control, just focus on what I can do every day to put myself in the best position,” he said. “They’re going to choose the guy they think is best for that job. Focusing on something I can’t control is wasted energy.”