Phillies rolling out 5th starter candidates; Taijuan Walker to debut Friday


CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Aaron Nola on Monday, Zack Wheeler on Tuesday, Andrew Painter on Wednesday.

Phillies fans could get used to the sound of that.

Nola pitched two scoreless innings in his first start of the spring Monday in Bradenton against the Pirates. Wheeler made his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday in Clearwater against the Blue Jays and Painter will start Wednesday at the Twins after the Phillies' 2½-hour trip to Fort Myers.

"I'm excited to see him pitch in a game," Nola said Monday of Painter. "I found out he was 19 this year, which is pretty cool. He doesn't act like he's 19, which is a credit to him, handles himself well. He's a lot more ahead than I was."

There's still plenty of time before this decision has to be made, but based on Nola starting Monday and Wheeler Tuesday as the Phillies begin their ramp-up programs, it could be Nola on opening day and Wheeler in Game 2.

Painter, the Phillies' top prospect, has a legit chance to win the fifth starter's job out of camp. His primary competitor is left-hander Bailey Falter, who was solid last season with a 3.76 ERA in 16 starts, including a seven-start stretch from late July through September in which he posted a 2.45 ERA and the Phils went 6-1.

Falter will make his first start of the spring Thursday when the Phillies are back in Fort Myers to face the Red Sox. Right-handed pitching prospect Griff McGarry, who struck out 130 batters in 87⅓ innings across three levels last season, will also to pitch in that game. 


Taijuan Walker will start on Friday in Clearwater against the Tigers (1:05 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia+).

Ranger Suarez will throw a simulated game in Clearwater on Thursday.

Walker and Suarez are leaving around March 5-6 to participate in the World Baseball Classic -- Suarez for Venezuela, Walker for Mexico. They're on a different program than the rest of the Phillies' starters because their schedule through opening day is so much different. The WBC runs from March 8 through March 21. WBC clubs consult closely with major-league teams about pitcher workload, so it's not like the Phillies are at risk of Suarez or Walker being extended to six innings in their first starts.

Fortunately for the Phillies, all of the WBC participants on their active roster will play their games in the U.S. The bracket has four pools in Phoenix, Miami, Tokyo and Taiwan. Team USA (Trea Turner, J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber) and Mexico (Walker) play in Phoenix. Venezuela (Suarez, Jose Alvarado), Dominican Republic (Gregory Soto) and Israel (Garrett Stubbs) play in Miami.

Soto may not be participating after all. He still hasn't arrived in Phillies camp because of visa issues leaving the Dominican Republic. There will be a decision in the coming days about whether he will be able to participate in the WBC. The Phillies need him to get time in camp to help him adjust to the rule changes but also just to get eyes on him.

Alvarado looks like the most game-ready pitcher on the Phillies' staff. "Filthy," manager Rob Thomson said Monday afternoon after Alvarado hit 99 and 100 mph in his second appearance of the spring.