July 19, 2023
After treading with heavy caution for months, Andrew Painter's trajectory for this season might have just reached its worst-case scenario.
His elbow, which he hurt all the way back at the beginning of spring, isn't fully healing, he's still experiencing symptoms from it, and at this point in the season, after trying to hold on to even the slightest hope that he could still possibly pitch in the majors this year, the Phillies had to finally cut their losses.
Painter, who has been dealing with a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow, has been shut down and the club's medical staff has recommended that he undergo reconstructive surgery of the UCL, or in other words, Tommy John surgery.
Painter will have a surgical consultation with Dr. Neal ElAttrache, baseball's top orthopedic surgeon who performed Bryce Harper's UCL repair back in the fall, in Los Angeles on Monday.
If Tommy John surgery does end up being the route after Dr. ElAttrache gets a look at Painter's elbow, which Phillies president Dave Dombrowski is anticipating it will be, then the procedure will be tentatively scheduled for Wednesday and Painter will be looking at a rehab timeline that will likely keep him out until 2025.
"We treated him conservatively, we've made progress at times, he's thrown," Dombrowski said from the club's dugout Wednesday afternoon (via KYW's Dave Uram). "He's felt good at times, but unfortunately, he's had a reoccurrence of pain, and we just feel it's a time – now that doctors have looked at him – that it's time to move forward and have the surgery – in our doctors' recommendations and feelings at this time. Dr. ElAttrache will be the second opinion on that."
The 20-year old righthander, who the Phillies picked up at 13th overall in the 2021 draft, is the organization's top prospect and was on a surge through its minor league system over the past year. He was moving so fast, in fact, that the Phillies were even lining him up in the spring for an opportunity to try and win the fifth spot in the starting rotation, though the UCL sprain ultimately put that idea on indefinite hold.
Painter was shut down for a few weeks upon the initial diagnosis of the injury back in March, and the hope from the Phillies was that a conservative mix of rest and treatment would be enough to let it heal naturally and avoid the prospect of surgery.
They stuck to the plan and Painter worked his way back up to bullpen sessions by the end of June. But in early July, right before he was set to face live hitters again, Painter still felt pain in his elbow and was shut back down to undergo further testing.
The results eventually brought everyone to the outcome that they were working hard to try and prevent.
"Unfortunately, even when this happened at the beginning of spring once he went down for a little bit, we had always pretty much known," Dombrowski said. "That if he had [surgery] earlier even in the season – and of course you're going to go conservatively per doctors' recommendations because nobody wants to have surgery if they can avoid it – we had always felt that he'd pretty much miss '24 anyway."
And now the Phillies are a doctor's appointment away from that reality, with Painter facing the prospect of two lost seasons and not being on a mound again until he's 22 years old.
"It's sad. I feel terrible for him, really," manager Rob Thomson said (also via Uram). "I'm sure this offseason he was thinking about being in this rotation and pitching in the big leagues, then all of a sudden the injury happens. So I hate injuries. I don't care who it is, it's too bad."
"I just feel for him at this point," Dombrowski said. "But again, a youngster, he's 20 years old, just turned 20. You start talking about missing next year and coming back for '25, well you're 22 years old at that time and even if there's a little bit of time delay as far as getting back, building his stuff back up, which sometimes happens, you're talking about a very young man who has a long future ahead of him."
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