While the Phillies have yet to provide an official update on the status of Andrew Painter's right elbow, one thing that is becoming clear is that he probably will no longer have a chance to win the fifth starter's job out of camp.
Painter made his first Grapefruit League start last Wednesday against the Twins. He went two innings, flashed a 98-99 mph fastball, a new cutter and a slider. Members of both teams came away thoroughly impressed by the Phils' 19-year-old top prospect, but just two days later manager Rob Thomson revealed Painter was dealing with "tenderness" in his right elbow.
Teams exercise extreme caution when their pitchers have an elbow injury, particularly this time of year and particularly when they're this young and crucial to their future. Whether this turns out to be a short-term or long-term injury, the Phillies are not going to rush Painter back this month in Clearwater. And given the fact that he's already missed about a week, his program of throwing and building stamina has already been set back or reset, in a way. The Phillies have just over three weeks left in camp. Even if Painter is cleared by the end of this week, he'd have to ramp back up slowly.
Bailey Falter, who made his second start of the spring Tuesday afternoon against the Rays, has to be viewed now as the heavy favorite to win the fifth starter's job. Other options include lefties Michael Plassmeyer and Cristopher Sanchez. Thomson has said Nick Nelson, the Phillies' right-handed long reliever last season, is in the picture as well, but the only big-league games he's started have been as an opener and he hasn't been stretched out yet in camp, appearing once for an inning in the first spring training game.
Sanchez, who had been slowed in camp by a back issue, made his first appearance of the spring in relief Tuesday, pitching a scoreless inning. The 26-year-old made starts of five and six innings for the Phils last summer.
Falter allowed two runs (one earned) over 2⅓ innings to the Rays on singles. He struck out three. It was softer contact than he allowed in his first spring start last week against the Red Sox.
Falter, who turns 26 in a month, made 16 starts for the Phillies last season and another in the playoffs. From July 29 through September 13, Falter posted a 2.52 ERA and the Phillies went 6-0 in his starts. He had an even 3.00 ERA over his final 10.