After an extended wait to get word on the health of top prospect Andrew Painter, it turns out to be a good news, bad news sort of issue. The good news is a sprained – not torn – ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). When you hear UCL, thoughts immediately turn to Tommy John surgery, but after getting two opinions on the injury, Painter has been told that surgery will not be necessary; at least at this point. The bad news is that he is completely shut down for four weeks, which takes him out of the running to be the fifth starter in the Phillies rotation. It also means that he will open the season in extended spring training and not pitching at either Double-A or Triple-A.
If you need further encouragement, look only to Phillies ace Aaron Nola. In the summer of 2016, Nola was diagnosed with a UCL sprain and was shut down after his July 28th start. He did not pitch for the rest of the season, but came into camp the following spring completely ready to go and has been able to eat innings without any hint of lingering effects from the injury. The Phillies, and Painter, hope that this will be the same outcome and that rest rather than surgery will be the answer.
Painter and left-hander Bailey Falter were seen as the primary front-runners for the final spot in the rotation behind Nola, Zack Wheeler, Taijuan Walker, and Ranger Suarez. Others such as Cristopher Sanchez, Griff McGarry, Michael Plassmeyer, and Mick Abel are still possibilities, but seem to be only on the periphery of having a legitimate shot at being in the rotation. Sanchez and Plassmeyer are most likely battling for bullpen spots or could stay stretched out and sent to Lehigh Valley as insurance for the rotation.
“I talked with Nola a little bit, he dealt with something similar in ’16 and then you look at his track record, he’s been great ever since,” Painter told reporters after the diagnosis was announced.
The Phillies chose Painter with the 13th overall pick in the 2021 Draft and he has been stellar in the minors. After making four starts, covering just six innings, in the Florida Coast League (rookie level) in ’21, Painter pitched at Clearwater, Jersey Shore, and Reading last season amassing 103.2 innings in 22 starts, including a complete game with Jersey Shore. He struck out 155 batters while walking just 25 and finished with a combined mark of 6-2 with a 1.56 ERA. After extended camp, the 19-year-old will likely work his way back up the minor league ladder and eventually settle in with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.