ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- David Phelps more than met Joe Girardi's expectations.
"I expect him to compete at a high level," Girardi said of the rookie, and he more than did that Wednesday, allowing one run and two hits in 41/3 innings in the Yankees' 4-3 win over the Rays.
Phelps, 25, hit two batters and walked three but struck out a career-high eight (his previous best was five).
"Phelps has pitched great," said Mark Teixeira, whose seventh-inning homer off David Price made it 1-1. "He's really stepped up for us. He deserves a lot of credit for today because he almost matched Price pitch for pitch the way he was throwing."
Pitch for pitch and, through three innings, zero for zero.
Girardi had set Phelps' pitch count at 80 to 85 and took him out after 81 with a man on second in the fifth. After Clay Rapada walked Carlos Peña, Cody Eppley struck out B.J. Upton and Brooks Conrad to keep it at 1-0.
"I felt good," said Phelps, whose ERA fell from 3.16 to 3.05. "I felt the ball was really coming out of my hand better. I'm frustrated with the walks and the pitch count getting as high as it did, but I kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win."
Phelps could be the odd man out when the Yankees put outfielder Darnell McDonald, signed off waivers Wednesday from the Red Sox, on the 25-man roster. After throwing 81 pitches, Phelps probably won't be available in the Boston series anyway. Regardless, in his three starts, he has shown promise.
"Let's give Phelpsie props," Nick Swisher said. "I thought he did a tremendous job."
Phelps wanted to get through at least the fifth inning but liked how he attacked hitters, an improvement over his first two starts.
"I was getting ahead early," he said. "I felt like I was 0-1 on a lot of hitters and just a lot of called strikes. Early in the count I was really filling it up and I was able to put them on the defensive from the start."
Phelps knew that with Price on the mound, he had little room for error. "You've got to limit the damage as much as you can,'' Phelps said, "because he's not going to give much up."
In his 41/3 innings, neither did the rookie.