By Peter Marks
The Phillies entered camp with the battle for the final rotation spot in doubt.
The Phils have consistently maintained top pitching prospect Andrew Painter would be given a legitimate chance to claim the job even though he won’t turn 20 until next month.
Those plans were seemingly put on hold last week, as the hard-throwing young righty reported some discomfort in his elbow.
The Phils sent Painter for further examination. The club has yet to provide many specifics, though Todd Zolecki of MLB.com wrote yesterday that the team has not received any indication Painter could require surgical repair.
It seems the current expectation is Painter will be able to rest and rehab but that won’t be officially known until orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache has an opportunity to review the young hurler’s medicals.
Even if Painter avoids going under the knife, the issue certainly diminishes his chances of cracking the majors out of camp.
That’d point towards left-hander Bailey Falter securing the final rotation spot behind Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Ranger Suárez and Taijuan Walker. Falter started 16 of 20 appearances last season, pitching to a 3.86 ERA in 84 frames. The 25-year-old had an average 21.2% strikeout rate and excellent 4.9% walk percentage to support that solid run prevention. The home run ball was a bit of an issue for the fly-ball specialist, but Falter showed enough to suggest he could be a viable back-of-the-rotation option.
Aside from Falter and Painter, southpaw Cristopher Sánchez perhaps represents the top option for the fifth rotation spot. Zolecki notes that manager Rob Thomson has named righty Nick Nelson as another starting candidate. Nelson has only started four big league games and none of those appearances lasted more than two innings as opener work. He worked primarily in a multi-inning relief capacity last season, his first in Philadelphia. Nelson threw 68 2/3 innings over 47 outings, pitching to a 4.85 ERA with a 22.5% strikeout rate and 11.8% walk percentage.