Phelps seizes opportunity, makes statement in win
Yankees righty's 6 2/3 shutout innings vs. Oakland speaks volumes
OAKLAND -- At the age of 27, the time has come for David Phelps to make a statement about his future with the Yankees.
He is getting the opportunity.
With an injury-depleted rotation, Phelps is being allowed to take a regular turn as a starter after spending the last two seasons bouncing between the rotation and bullpen.
On Friday night, he finally made himself heard, loud and clear.
Phelps worked 6 2/3 innings in the Yankees' 7-0 victory against the A's at O.co Coliseum, allowing two hits and walking three. It was a strong recovery from a four-start struggle in which he allowed 18 earned runs in 24 2/3 innings, suffering the loss in all four.
"He's been pretty frustrated the last couple," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "You get frustrated when you don't feel you are doing what you are capable of, and aren't contributing to wins."
And at this juncture in his career, Phelps is getting what most likely will be the best chance he will have to make sure he becomes a part of the Yankees' long-range plans, much less a factor in helping them regain a spot in the postseason this October.
Phelps and rookie pitchers Vidal Nuno, a left-hander, and Chase Whitley, a right-hander, are being asked to keep a Yankees rotation afloat in light of injuries to Ivan Nova (right elbow, ulnar collateral ligament), Michael Pineda (right shoulder) and CC Sabathia (right knee inflammation).
"Literally and figuratively, we have big shoes to fill," said Phelps. "We all have confidence in our ability and know what we are capable of doing. It's a matter of going out and showing it. We would not be here if [the Yankees] didn't feel we had the ability to get the job done. We've got to go out and do it."
Whitley is 2-0 with a 2.41 ERA in six starts. Nuno is 1-2 with a 4.97 ERA in 10 outings.
Then there is Phelps. He was 1-4 with a 5.18 ERA in seven starts before Friday night. He had given up 17 runs in 11 2/3 innings his two previous starts. But he also knew he had come to the time that he had to prove himself in the big leagues. There wasn't much of a challenge left at the Minor League level.
He has a career record of 40-15 with a 2.93 ERA in the Minors.
Against the A's, Phelps pitched like a pitcher who has dominated hitters before.
"It was definitely one of the best starts of my career," said Phelps. "It came against a team that is in first place in its division and has one of the best records in baseball."
Phelps shut the A's down. He held them hitless until Derek Norris' one-out single in the fifth, and didn't allow another hit until Jed Lowrie's two-out double in the seventh, which was when Girardi decided to go the bullpen.
By then, the Yankees had a comfortable lead and Phelps had made a solid statement of his potential.
He can take a deep breath, but he's not about to kick back and relax.
"I don't know if I am ever going to relax," he said.
Seeing him pitch like he did on Friday does allow the Yankees to at least exhale a bit.
Their rotation is a mess -- only Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka remain from the season-opening quintet -- and to contend in the American League East, the Yankees need the three fill-ins to step up. They are not only in second place in the division -- 3 1/2 games back of the Blue Jays -- but if the season ended today, the Yankees would be the second AL Wild Card team.
There are, however, 96 regular-season games still on the Yankees' schedule, which means there are unknown obstacles they still must face. To have Phelps, Whitley and Nuno answer the rotation questions would be a Godsend.
And there is no reason they can't, especially since they are getting a chance to step into the big league rotation for at least the time being.
"When you are getting spot starts, you just go as hard as you can every time out," said Phelps. "When we start now, we know we are going back out there. The big thing is in the bullpen between starts, you can work on stuff."
On Friday, the work paid off for Phelps and the Yankees.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.