CLEARWATER, Fla. -- A day after top prospect Andrew Painter's Grapefruit League debut, his top competition for the Phillies' final rotation spot took the mound in Fort Myers.
Left-hander Bailey Falter made his first start of the spring, working 1⅓ innings against the Red Sox and allowing a run. He threw 30 pitches and put four men on base.
Rafael Devers and Justin Turner had hard-hit singles in the first and Christian Arroyo hit a solo homer to start the second. Falter fell behind, 2-0, on Arroyo before throwing a fastball that caught too much plate. He struck out the next batter, Jorge Alfaro, then was lifted after walking Jarren Duran.
Painter and Falter are the top two candidates for the Phillies' fifth starter's job. The team is saying Cristopher Sanchez, Michael Plassmeyer, Griff McGarry and Nick Nelson are in the mix as well but it's really just Painter and Falter, barring injury or crazy results the rest of this month.
"I don't feel the pressure at all," Falter said. "This is my third spring training coming up with these guys so I feel like I'm fighting for a spot every year. Really, that doesn't affect me. It's going to be a friendly competition for sure, I wish these guys the best of luck. But when it's my time to get out there and go work, we'll see what happens."
The rotation battle will also impact the competition for the Phillies' final bullpen spot. If Falter wins the job, Painter would start in the minor leagues. If Painter wins the job, Falter could still make the team as the long man. In that scenario, the Phils could theoretically keep Falter stretched out by using him for three innings of relief here or there. They could also choose to option him to Triple A prior to opening day so that he starts regularly while keeping Nelson on as the eighth reliever.
Even if Falter isn't in the season-opening rotation, he'll play a role for the Phillies in 2023. Teams never go through a season with just five starting pitchers. Falter provided valuable, difference-making depth last summer when Zach Eflin and Zack Wheeler were on the injured list in the second half. He pitched to a 3.00 ERA over his final 10 starts and went 5-0 with a 2.45 ERA from July 29 through September 18. The Phils went 11-5 in his starts.
Falter, who turns 26 in late April, threw 131 innings last season between Triple A and the majors, 17 more than his previous career-high.
"The shortest offseason I've ever had, obviously for good reason," Falter said. "Quick turnaround but arm feels good, body feels good. I only took about three weeks off and then was back in the gym. I think I feel better this year than I did last year."