Phillies prospect Andrew Painter dazzles with heat in spring debut

The stage hardly looked too big for pitcher Andrew Painter.

The hard-throwing Philadelphia Phillies prospect’s fastball touched 99 mph in his spring training debut against Minnesota. The 19-year-old allowed one run and three hits with a strikeout in two innings, a solid first step as he attempts to crack Philadelphia’s starting rotation before his 20th birthday on April 10.

The 6-foot-7 Painter showcased a little bit of why the Phillies are so high on him. The 13th overall pick in the 2021 amateur draft nearly reached 100 mph on the radar gun while facing Carlos Correa in the first inning, though Correa did reach on an infield single.

“You know, (Correa) is pretty good at what he does,” Painter joked with reporters afterward. “So just trying to get by him.”

Painter threw 18 of 29 pitches for strikes and fanned Max Kepler with a 90 mph cutter. He ran into a bit of trouble in the second inning after allowing consecutive singles to Christian Vázquez and Nick Gordon before giving up a run on a sacrifice fly. The game ended in a 4-4 tie.

Phillies catcher Garrett Stubbs praised Painter’s poise, which Painter attributed in part to having played at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers while pitching for Philadelphia’s Class A affiliate last year.

“I felt like we didn’t even get to the point where he can probably get to, but he did really well,” Stubbs said. “You saw the kind of repertoire. He can spin the ball. He was throwing strikes. Obviously a really good heater and I don’t even think today’s heater was as good as it normally is. So I think we have even more to see from him.”

Painter sprinted through Philadelphia’s system in 2022, going 6-2 with a 1.48 ERA in 26 appearances spread across two Class A squads and Double-A Reading.

SALE ON TRACK TO RETURN

Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale will likely make his Grapefruit League debut next week.

The seven-time All-Star threw 43 pitches over two innings of batting practice on Wednesday. Boston manager Alex Cora told reporters that Sale should be cleared to work two to three innings in a game sometime next week.

The 33-year-old Sale was limited to two starts last year and 11 starts in all since 2020 due to a variety of health issues. Sale arrived at spring training with no limitations, though Boston is taking the left-hander’s ramp-up slowly in hopes of avoiding any setbacks.

PAIN-FREE LEMAHIEU

New York Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu went 1 for 2 against Washington in his first game since being sidelined last September by a right toe injury.

He singled off the left-field wall in the third, and played four innings at second base. More importantly, LeMahieu enjoyed pain-free at-bats for the first time since the middle of last season.

“I’m excited about that,” LeMahieu said. “Excited to keep it going. I’ve been feeling good, and I expected it to stay that way.”

LeMahieu was limited to 125 regular-season games last year and missed the playoffs. He finished the season with a .261 batting average, his lowest since 2011.

“It’s awesome to see him up,” Yankees left fielder Giancarlo Stanton said. “He’s a force for us, and he’s a menace for pitchers.”

BRADLEY JR. SIGNS WITH ROYALS

The Kansas City Royals signed veteran Jackie Bradley Jr. to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training, where he will have an opportunity to earn playing time in a wide-open outfield.

The Royals recently traded incumbent center fielder Michael A. Taylor to Minnesota for pitching prospects, and Drew Waters appeared first in line to take over the job. But he strained an oblique and is expected to miss the start of the season, leaving the Royals with an intriguing competition in spring training.

The 32-year-old Bradley will have to overcome Kyle Isbel, among other young prospects, to earn the starting job.

Bradley was an All-Star during eight seasons with Boston, where he was highly regarded for his defense but often failed to live up to expectations at the plate. He signed a two-year, $24 million deal with Milwaukee two years ago, but hit just .163 and was sent back to Boston before being released and signing with Toronto.

He batted .203 with four homers and 38 RBIs in 131 games between the Red Sox and Blue Jays last season.

If added to the Royals’ 40-man roster, Bradley would get a one-year contract for $950,000 and have the chance to earn $1 million in bonuses based on roster time.

GUARDIANS ON GUARD WITH VALERA

The Cleveland Guardians are hoping some rest will help highly touted outfield prospect George Valera, who left Tuesday’s exhibition with an apparent right hand injury.

Valera, ranked as the No. 2 prospect in Cleveland’s organization, was forced to leave during his at-bat in the second inning after fouling off a pitch. He underwent surgery on the same hand during the offseason to repair a hamate bone fracture.

Manager Terry Francona said Valera will receive treatment before the team’s medical staff considers any imaging tests.

Valera hit .250 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs at Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus last season. Also, Francona said lefty reliever Sam Hentges is dealing with shoulder inflammation and will be evaluated weekly.

Hentges has become a reliable bullpen piece for Francona. Last season, the 26-year-old went 3-2 with a 2.32 ERA in 57 games.

“After Sam pitched the other day, he just came in and his shoulder just wasn’t bouncing back like he wanted it to,” Francona said. “They got him imaged. He has some swelling around the ligaments of his shoulder.”

RORTVEDT SIDELINED AGAIN

Reserve catcher Ben Rortvedt is out indefinitely after a procedure to deal with what Yankees manager Aaron Boone called “an aneurysm of his posterior artery” near his left shoulder.

The injury is the latest in a series of setbacks for Rortvedt, who came to New York as part of the trade that sent catcher Gary Sánchez to Minnesota last offseason. Rortvedt was expected to compete for a roster spot but instead never appeared in a major league game due to oblique and knee injuries.

SWING SHIFT

The early returns on Major League Baseball’s decision to restrict shifts are promising.

Runs and batting average were both up through the first wave of games compared to spring training a year ago. Players were hitting .272 through Feb. 28, with an average of 11.9 runs scored. That’s up from a batting average of .259 and 10.6 runs through the same period in 2022.

The uptick in offense does not appear to be affecting pace of play, thanks in large part to the introduction of the pitch clock. The average game time through Feb. 28 was 2 hours, 39 minutes. That’s down from 3:01 over the same stretch last spring training.

Umpires remain aggressive in enforcing timing rules. Cleveland shortstop Jose Tena was called out for not engaging the pitcher until there were less than eight seconds left on the clock.

A FIRST FOR GUZMÁN

Ronald Guzmán is serious about trying his hand at pitching. And the San Francisco Giants are serious about giving the veteran first baseman a shot.

The 28-year-old Guzmán pitched the ninth inning of San Francisco’s 8-5 loss to Arizona. Guzmán allowed a solo home run to P.J. Higgins but also struck out Jake Hager on three pitches. Guzmán was efficient, throwing eight of his 12 pitches for strikes.

Guzmán signed a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training as a two-way player with San Francisco over the winter. The 6-foot-5 left-hander played in 246 games for Texas and the New York Yankees from 2018-22 as a first baseman and designated hitter.

Phillies prospect Andrew Painter dazzles with heat in spring debut originally appeared on NBCSports.com