FORT MYERS, Fla. -- On an afternoon Phillies fans might one day look back at as the moment it all began, Andrew Painter showed off some of the repertoire that's made him one of the top prospects in baseball and a pitcher with a chance to crack his team's opening day rotation at 19 years old.
Facing a lineup filled with major-leaguers, Painter went two innings in his Grapefruit League debut against the Twins. Five of his first six fastballs were 98 or 99 mph.
He got ahead, 0-2, on Carlos Correa in the first inning with a pair of 99 mph fastballs before an eventual soft groundball to short that went for an infield hit. Painter struck out the next hitter, a tough left-handed bat in Max Kepler, with a 91 mph, 2-2 cutter.
He beat a couple of good hitters in his first inning and yet catcher Garrett Stubbs thinks Painter has even better stuff than he showed.
"You saw a little bit of what he can do and I think there's a lot more in there," Stubbs said. "Me calling pitches back there in his first time being out on a big-league field as part of spring training, I felt like we didn't even get to the point where he can probably get to, but he did really well. You can see the repertoire, he can spin the ball, throw strikes, obviously a really good heater and I don't even think today's heater was as good as he is. I think we have even more to see from him."
Painter sat 97-98 in the first inning with the two 99s. He allowed a run in the second when Christian Vazquez and Nick Gordon greeted him with hard-hit singles to put runners on the corners. Painter got out of the inning with a flyball double play to left fielder Simon Muzziotti, who nabbed Gordon tagging up to second base as Vazquez scored. Michael A. Taylor tapped out to shortstop to end Painter's afternoon.
His line: 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 1 K. Painter threw 29 pitches, 18 for strikes, just one swinging. He went fastball, cutter, slider. The heater ranged from 96-99, the cutter was in the low-90s and the slider was in the low/mid-80s.
The cutter is a new pitch.
"That was this past offseason that I picked that up, just to get something that’s harder," he said. "The slider’s kinda sweepy so just looking for something else that looks like a fastball.
"(The 2-2 cutter that struck out Kepler) was out of the zone but that shows it’s pretty deceptive, that it’s playing well off the heater and looked like a heater coming out of the hand."
Painter did not use his curveball or changeup on Wednesday. Stubbs said he kind of babied Painter in this first start, calling for more fastballs than usual.
"I thought he was good. First outing, It went pretty well," manager Rob Thomson said. "He didn't throw any changeups or curveballs and all first-pitch fastballs, so there's some work we have to do there and mix a little better earlier in the count. Once you get to the bottom of the lineup and it's been all first-pitch fastballs, that's probably what they're gearing up for. We've just got to mix a little bit, and once he does that, he'll be fine.
"But poise, you can see the poise. It was really good. Threw strikes. Came out healthy."
Correa and first baseman Darick Hall, who pounded a two-run homer off the batter's eye in center field, had a quick conversation about Painter after Correa reached in the first inning.
"What’s cool about him is that at 19, if you put me on a mound in big-league camp, you would be able to see my anxiety," Hall said. "He gets up there and just does his thing. 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.' That dude is on the cusp of being in the big leagues. It’s really impressive.
"His presence and his stuff, and how he’s handling it, too. He’s getting a lot of attention. A very talented player and he’s going about it the way he’s supposed to. Just as a guy who’s spent a lot of time in the minor leagues, I’ve seen a lot of people. The guys like that are the guys who make it a long time and are good with their teammates.
"I wouldn’t be surprised as he ages if he doesn’t start sitting like 101 mph. The fact that he can do that at this age? He’s in great shape, but say you put on a little bit of man strength that everybody gets at this age, it’s going to be scary and in a good way. I’m really impressed with the kid, and I like him a lot. I can’t wait to see how his career goes. I pray for his health and he just gets to keep going because it’s going to be fun to watch."
Painter is competing with a group of pitchers for the Phillies' fifth starter's job but his primary competition is left-hander Bailey Falter. The Phils won't hold Painter back if he pitches well enough this month to win the job, but Falter, who had a 3.00 ERA in his final 10 starts last season and allowed two runs or fewer in eight of them, will have his say. Falter makes his first start of the spring Thursday against the Red Sox on the second day of the Phils' Fort Myers trip. Other pitchers in play for the final rotation spot include lefties Cristopher Sanchez and Michael Plassmeyer and right-handers Nick Nelson and Griff McGarry. Again though, it would be a surprise if it's not Painter or Falter.
Painter has a chance to be the first player in the first round of his draft class to reach the majors, which is crazy given he's still just 19 and there were 17 college players taken. He blew past the competition at three different minor-league levels last season with a 1.40 ERA in Low A, a 0.98 ERA in High A and a 2.54 ERA in Double A, where he ended his year with 37 strikeouts and two walks.
He enters the season as the No. 5-ranked prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America, which writes that his potential is “unmatched” among current pitching prospects.
"The fact that a kid at 19 years old can spin the ball two different ways at two different velocities is pretty impressive," Stubbs said.
"I really liked the cutter to Kepler for the strikeout. I don't think that he has ever done that before. Even 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."