OAKLAND, Calif. - The death knell for the Yankees' season very easily could have occurred May 11 when CC Sabathia went on the disabled list, joining Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda and becoming the third member of the rotation in three weeks to be sidelined.
After all, there looked to be nothing exciting about a rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda, David Phelps, Vidal Nuño and Chase Whitley, who was called up to make Sabathia's start May 15 against the Mets.
But in one of the more unexpected developments of the Yankees' season, the trio has helped the club weather the storm.
"They've kept us afloat," said Mark Teixeira, who was scratched from the starting lineup less than a half-hour before Saturday night's game because of tightness in his left rib cage.
Teixeira made his comments after Friday night's 7-0 victory over the A's, a game in which Phelps allowed two hits in 62/3 innings. "You're not going to go through a season completely healthy,'' the first baseman added. "You're always going to have to have guys step in, whether it's a bullpen guy moving to the rotation or a young guy coming up. All the guys we've had step in on the pitching side have all done a great job."
The numbers for the group don't jump off the page, other than for Whitley. Phelps is 2-4 with a 4.44 ERA in eight starts. Nuño is 1-2 with a 4.19 ERA in 10 starts. Whitley, a reliever-turned-starter, is 2-0 with a 2.41 ERA.
Still, they've eaten up just enough innings and mostly have avoided disastrous outings.
"[Losing] Nova, Pineda and CC, that's a tough hit to take," Brett Gardner said. "Any time you have a guy that takes the ball the fifth day, it doesn't matter if he throws as well as Tanaka has or as well as Hiro. If a guy takes the ball and gives you innings and gives you depth, that's important. Those guys have come in and filled in and done a really, really good job. They're a lot of fun to play behind and are guys that are hungry. It's special."
Phelps, who had allowed a combined 13 runs in his previous two starts before Friday night's superb outing, said the expectations among the three have always been high. "We don't view ourselves as fill-ins," Phelps said.
He added that when the injuries occurred, seemingly rapid-fire, to Nova, Pineda and Sabathia, "literally and figuratively" there were "big shoes to fill."
"But it's something we definitely take pride in," he said. "We all have confidence in our ability. We know what we're capable of doing. It's just a matter of going out and showing it. We wouldn't be here if they didn't have faith in us to go out and get the job done. That's one thing we have to continue to do: show them that we're able to do it."
Teixeira recalled the 2011 season when the Yankees, this time during spring training, appeared to have a major shortage of starters. Veterans Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon emerged, then were productive during the regular season. But those were experienced arms with long resumes.
Teixeira said that what Phelps, Nuño and Whitley are doing is especially impressive because of their relative lack of track records. "It's mostly unproven guys, which is just fun to watch," he said. "I love seeing young guys out there that aren't afraid to take the ball in big situations."
A long-time criticism of the Yankees, of course, has been that the club typically gives a short leash to their young players, particularly pitchers.
"I talked about it with Adam [Warren] last year and we talked about it quite a bit this year, to kind of open up eyes for some of our younger guys to come up and get a chance to see ," Phelps said. "The more chances that we get, the more success that we have, is just great for everybody."