David Phelps gives Yankees a chance with four solid innings of relief
In the silver lining department for the Yankees, there was reliever David Phelps Saturday. Starter Phil Hughes had been rocked for five runs and nine hits in three-plus innings against the Baltimore Orioles, and it was Phelps who kept the Yankees in the game.
"A great job of keeping it right there and giving us a chance to come back," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
The Yankees came back only from 5-0 to a 5-3 loss. But Phelps' four innings -- in which he allowed no runs, one hit and no walks and struck out six -- was sunshine on the shoulders of a team badly buffeted in the early innings.
A part-time starter last year who currently has been squeezed out of the starting rotation, Phelps cut his 2013 earned run average exactly in half -- from 6.75 to 3.38.
He retired the first six batters he faced before hitting Ryan Flaherty with a pitch, got the next three batters and never had to work with a man on base again. Adam Jones singled with one out in the seventh inning but leftfielder Vernon Wells cut him down at second when Jones tried to stretch it into a double.
"Came out and threw some strikes and got some early outs," Phelps said, "and that really helped. My curveball was the best it's been all year, even in spring training. That's the pitch I need to do well."
That essentially wiped away two previous wobbly appearances -- seven hits and three runs in four innings. And rescued Hughes, whose moment of reckoning seemed to come against the first Baltimore batter -- Nate McLouth's screaming double -- and soon was followed by three Baltimore homers and a slew of hard-hit outs.
Phelps' solid performance stirred questions of whether he might be considered for the starting rotation in place of Hughes or Ivan Nova.
"No, I think it's really early to do that," Girardi said.
Phelps, too, insisted he is not entertaining such thoughts. "Not at all," he said. "I'm happy where I am, just to help this team win in whatever way it may be. I'm not out here hoping our starters don't do well. I want to win games regardless of what my role is and hope those guys are pulling for me.
"I have faith in them. We've all had rough outings."
So while the starters spin in their predictable orbits of pitching days, weightlifting days and other routines -- circling back to the mound every fifth day -- Phelps said the adjustment to his less certain course is not so difficult.
In the bullpen, he said, "We all have our specific roles down there. If we're up by one in the ninth, we know Mo [Rivera] is coming in. If we need help early on, it's gonna be me or Adam [Warren] or Shawn [Kelley]. You watch the flow of the game and try to feel it out so you're ready when your name is called."
On Saturday, he was ready.