December 10, 2023

Nola, Wheeler and Painter Shine in Spring Debuts

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Photo via The Athletic

As Spring Training is now fully underway, we have been able to see some of the Phillies’ top pitchers perform for the first time in 2023. This may be the most anticipated year to see Phillies pitchers since the four aces days.

The rotation is headlined by Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. Both had excellent postseasons that led the Phillies to the brink of a world championship. Along, with the two established veterans, top pitching prospect Andrew Painter has been a star in big league camp so far.

Manager Rob Thomson lined the three pitchers up to pitch back to back to back days in the spring. So, how did they all do in their first appearances?

Aaron Nola was the first of the three to pitch. On Monday, he faced the Pittsburgh Pirates on the road. Nola was superb. In two innings of work, he gave up one walk, no hits, and no runs on 25 pitches. He also recorded a strikeout. Because of Alec Bohm’s two-run home run in the top of the 1st, Nola received the win.

Nola is in line to make his 6th straight opening day start for the Phillies. While he is in the last year of his contract, the team is confident he will be wearing the red pinstripes beyond 2023. His first spring start was a great start to the 2023 campaign after the longest season of his career.

The following day, Zack Wheeler took the mound for Philadelphia. Wheeler faced the Toronto Blue Jays in a home game in Clearwater. Wheeler was nothing short of perfect in his performance. He retired all six batters faced in order and struck out two in his two innings.

Wheeler threw just 19 pitches in his two innings. In his first outing of 2023, he also showed off a new pitch. The “sweeper” or “slurve” is a combination of his slider and curveball. It has slider motion while being slower and possessing farther movement across the strike zone. The new pitch makes Wheeler’s arsenal even more impressive headed into the season. Wheeler also had a sharp fastball on Tuesday. His first pitch of the game to Whit Merrifield clocked in at 96.8 mph. The Phillies will need Wheeler to be one of the top pitchers in the game once again this season if they hope to make it back to the World Series.

The most anticipated start of the spring took place Wednesday. To open the month of March, Andrew Painter took the mound against the Minnesota Twins. Painter’s debut was highlighted by touching 99 mph on his fastball and striking out Max Kepler on a sword-like swing thanks to a dirty 2-2 cutter.

In two innings, Painter gave up one run on three hits. It was an impressive outing for the 19-year-old prospect who received praise for the performance from opponents.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli was shocked when he heard Painter was just 19 on the cusp of making the Major Leagues.

Mets legend and Twins star shortstop Carlos Correa also were very impressed. He said, “I believe this kid(Painter) is going to be a star. He’s got electric stuff. He’s going to be in the big leagues pretty soon, and that’s exciting at a young age with all that potential. He’s got a great mound presence. … He’s mature beyond his years. Pounded the zone, not afraid of anyone, just going out there and throwing strikes. Very special”.

While Painter was impressive, he knows there’s a lot more work to be done. He said, “I would’ve liked to have been in the zone a little more — that’s something to build off of heading into the next start. But trying to focus on getting ahead early, I fell behind in a lot of counts, getting to hitter’s counts.”

Rob Thomson was proud of his young player’s poise but saw some places he could improve. He pointed out that Painter threw all first-pitch fastballs and he will have to work on mixing pitches up earlier in the counts.

Overall, it was a great three starts from the Phillies’ three starting pitchers. With Taijuan Walker and Ranger Suarez headed to the World Baseball Classic for Mexico and Venezuela respectfully, we will see Walker make his Phillies debut on Friday and Suarez will possibly pitch over the weekend.

For what should be the best Phillies rotation in years, the first starts of Spring Training were positive indications.

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