Sunday, May 19, 2013

Phelps Shows He Belongs

The Toronto Blue Jays haven't exactly been tearing the cover off of the baseball in a season in which many picked them to win or place in the AL East horse race. David Phelps' performance against them on Saturday should not be diminished by the fact that the Blue Jays record fell to 17-26 and they are the current owners of the AL East basement.

Phelps shook off some early inning control issues and threw a career high seven innings to improve to 2-2 on the season. Phelps will never be talked about in the same sentence with Stephen Strasburg or Justin Verlander, and that's all right. Phelps may get compared to a Mike Mussina; a guy that can dominate without firing upper 90s fastballs (He was around 90-91 mph all day Saturday) to the catcher's mitt.

While Robinson Cano (two) and Travis Hafner provided 2-run home runs in the 7-2 win, Phelps was steady and followed his plan just about to the letter. He's a guy that knows what he's doing on the mound, clearly a pitcher and not a thrower.

The University of Notre Dame product started out by facing five hitters in the first inning without one putting the ball in play. He struck out lead off hitter Melky Cabrera on a curveball that broke so hard in on the former Yankee, that it hit Cabrera in the ankle as he couldn't check his swing. His curveball and slider broke too much for right-handed hitters Jose Bautista and Edward Encarnacion, both of whom he walked.

Phelps came back and struck out catcher J.P. Arencibia, then spun around to pick Bautista off a second base with Adam Lind in the batter's box. Phelps scattered six hits the rest of the way, walked just one more hitter and finished with eight strikeouts.

The Yankees didn't take Phelps until the 14th round of the 2008 MLB amateur draft, and while some of the top tier prospects in the organization have been slow to rise up through the ranks, Phelps has quietly gone about his business and succeeded.

Yesterday was his fourth straight start since Ivan Nova was put on the disabled list. The two competed in Spring Training for the fifth spot in the rotation and though Phelps performed better, Nova won the job based on his track record and Phelps' ability to fill the Ramiro Mendoza swing man role.  Nova has been fragile and inconsistent the last two years though and Phelps is doing his best to stake a claim in the rotation. With Andy Pettitte out, Nova should join Phelps in the once he returns from the DL. What happens when Pettitte returns will be determined at that time.

In the meantime Phelps will just keep trying to get better as he has done with each of his four starts. He allowed four runs in 5.2 innings against a weak hitting Houston Astros team, but didn't figure in the decision as the Yankees won. He didn't come out with a win his next time out either in the Yankees 3-2 win over the Colorado Rockies, but he limited the opposition to two runs and three hits in six innings.

Phelps was a hard luck loser when the Cleveland Indians won the opener of this past Monday's twinbill, 2-1. The five walks Phelps issued were unusual, but he struck out seven and allowed one run in 6.2 innings. The Yankees will certainly take three wins out of every four of Phelps' starts. (His other win came in a four inning relief apperance, also against the Blue Jays.) Now they just need to let him take the ball every fifth day.

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