With Yankees ace CC Sabathia placed on the DL with elbow inflammation, long-reliever rookie David Phelps slips into the Yankees rotation with a great shot of giving fantasy owners some spot starts while flashing a high K-rate and with an elite offense behind him.
Making two starts earlier in the season, albeit abbreviated ones with an established pitch count, Phelps was serviceable, but didn’t make it through the fifth inning, throwing a max of 89 pitches. With Sabathia on the shelf, Phelps will again be limited in his fill-in starts, but has a shot to rack up a couple of wins in replacement duty.
I haven’t seen much of Phelps this season, so I decided to tune into his start last night against the tough Rangers’ hitters to see just how serviceable he can be for the Yankees and for fantasy owners looking for streaming starters down the stretch. Here’s how he looked:
First Inning: Phelps’ first pitch is a 91-MPH fastball for strike one on Ian Kinsler. I’m not a Yankees fan (not that I am anti-Yankees), so I am not too familiar with Phelps’ stuff and I’m interested to see how he does pitch-to-pitch. Phelps again is in the zone right in the lower inside corner, then misses outside with a cutter at 89-MPH, 1-2. Phelps is an inch too far inside with the heater, then paints the outer lower corner for strike three looking to start his outing. That was a nice cutter with a tiny wrinkle, perfectly placed. Nice way to start. Phelps falls behind Elvis Andrus, then the next pitch is chopped towards Jeter, who tries to make the Sportscenter Top 10 with a jump throw from the third base side, but he sails the throw like Mark Sanchez, and Andrus is on first with an infield single. Andrus hit that one in just the right spot to get a tough-luck single off Phelps. Phelps falls behind 1-0, then gets a swing-and-miss on a cutter from Josh Hamilton, 1-1. Phelps moves the cutter further inside and jams Hamilton who fouls it off, then Phelps misses way outside, 2-2. Phelps rears back a 93-MPH fastball that’s too far inside, full count. With Andrus running, Hamilton rips one down the first base line, but it’s foul to keep it full. Long at bat early for Phelps, who is looking to keep his pitch count low as the Yankees won’t leave him in too long. Phelps then tries to hit the upper inside corner, but sails it too high and it’s runners on first and second with one out on the walk. Early jam for Phelps. Phelps misses high with the fastball to fall behind 1-0 on Adrian Beltre and on his third straight hitter. Phelps is too low, but then paints the outside corner to get a swing-and-miss, 2-1. Beltre pulls one foul, then Phelps paints the outside corner with a 93-MPH fastball that tailed a tad back into the zone and gets Beltre swinging for his second strikeout. That was Phelps best pitch of the day so far. Phelps gets ahead of Nelson Cruz with a curveball for a strike, 0-1. That was his first breaking ball, and if he can get that in the zone, he can be successful even against a potent Rangers line-up. Phelps misses low, then inside to make it 2-1, then gets Cruz to foul one back, 2-2. Phelps is already at 23 pitches, so this will likely be another short start for him. Cruz fouls another back, then Phelps jams one on the inner lower corner and Cruz shatters his bat and bloops it to center for a single that score Andrus, 1-0 Rangers. Two tough luck singles and it’s been an unlucky inning for Phelps. However, the first pitch to Michael Young is flied to right field right to Ichiro, and Phelps is out of the inning.
Second Inning: After a very unlucky first inning, Phelps starts the second with a fastball taken right down the middle to David Murphy, 0-1. Phelps doesn’t get the call on the breaking ball that looked like it hit the outside corner, but gets a strike on the inside corner, 1-2. The next pitch is a pretty well-placed curveball that doesn’t quite break into the dirt but looked like a quality pitch, yet somehow Murphy is able to dig it out and it carries over the short porch in right for a home run. That was a tough break there; it broke and was bearing in and low on Murphy, but advantage to the hitter who was able to knock it out. The first pitch to Geovany Soto is skied in foul territory past first base and Teixeira is able to nab it, one down. On the second pitch to Mitch Moreland, Phelps is able to get a long fly ball out to center, for a second quick out. Phelps misses inside on Kinsler, and Kinsler goes to first with the pitch apparently nicking his jersey. That was a very tough break for Phelps as it grazed his jersey on a pitch not even that far inside. Phelps is again inside on Andrus, then gets a fastball over the plate followed by a bunt attempt fouled, 1-2. Phelps then catches Kinsler napping and is able to pick him off easily at first to get out of the inning. I bet Kinsler wishes he had that one back.
Third Inning: Still down 2-0, Phelps starts Andrus with a fastball down the middle, 0-1. The next pitch is a curveball that hangs a bit and Andrus flares it to right for a leadoff single. Phelps is right back in the zone and gets Hamilton to pop it up to shallow left for a quick first out. Phelps really needed that one. The first pitch to Beltre is a curveball that grazes the outside corner, 0-1. Next pitch jams Beltre and he shoots one toward short, but Jeter fumbled it trying to get it out of his glove and it’s ruled an infield single. Another tough-luck single given up. Phelps misses with the first pitch to Cruz, then is too far inside with the fastball, 2-0. Phelps hits the outside corner with the cutter to get a swing-and-miss and then surprises Andrus with a pickoff move at second for Phelps’ second pickoff in the game. The next pitch to Cruz is grounded to third, and Eric Chavez goes the short way to second to end the inning.
Fourth Inning: Phelps must love pitching for the Yankees, as he suddenly finds himself ahead 5-2. He starts the fourth hoping to protect the lead with a pitch outside, then paints the outside corner and gets a foul ball to get back in the count against Young, 1-2. Phelps misses way outside with the curveball, but then Young grounds weakly to short, one down. Phelps gets ahead of David Murphy, then misses and gets a foul ball to go ahead 1-2. It’s good to see Phelps in the zone against the hitter that touched him up in his previous at bat. Phelps misses too far inside with a fastball, 2-2, then tries to hit the same spot but the fastball tails too far over the plate and Murphy hits it off the wall for a double. That was a mistake pitch that time, and Murphy has his second extra-base hit off Phelps. Phelps is right back in the zone with the breaking ball, then misses inside, but gets Soto to ground the next pitch to third for the second out. Phelps throws another curveball in the zone for strike one to Moreland. That pitch has been a great asset to keep him ahead in counts. Moreland foul tips one back to make it 0-2, then Phelps buries a tight curveball in the dirt that somehow Moreland gets a piece of to stay alive. Phelps misses up with the fastball, then gets him to swing-and-miss on another great curveball almost in the dirt to end the inning on his third strikeout.
Fifth Inning: With the Yankees still ahead 5-2, Phelps starts the fifth with a curveball outside to Kinsler, 0-1. Phelps hasn’t pitched more than 4 2/3 innings, and they have said they want to keep him at 75-80 pitches in this start, with him on pitch 67. Phelps gets one in the zone, then Kinsler pops out in the infield, one down. Phelps misses high-and-tight on Andrus, 1-0, then is an inch outside, 2-0. Phelps paints the outside corner this time with the fastball to get a strike called, and again hits that outer edge, 2-2. Phelps almost gets Andrus to chase the cutter breaking outside, but he lays off and it’s a full count. Andrus fouls two straight off, then Phelps gets him to fly out to center right in front of the track. The Yankees bullpen begins to warm up, as Phelps looks to complete his first clean inning. Hamilton fouls the first one off, then Phelps gets him to ground out weakly to first for his first three up, three down inning, and a great way to end his outing.
Final Line: W 5 Innings 78 Pitches (51 Strikes)
6 Hits 1 Walk 2 Runs 3 Ks
Final Analysis: After a rough, tough-luck first inning and then giving up a home run on a pretty good pitch, Phelps really settled down and was able to keep his pitch count low through the third, fourth and fifth innings to pick up the win. Three of the singles he gave up (both of the hits in the first, and Beltre’s single in the third) were pretty unlucky as Phelps’ numbers should have been even better.
Featuring a pretty solid fastball, an above-average cutter, and a curveball he can get into the zone for strikes, Phelps doesn’t have the electric stuff of other, bigger name rookies, but is serviceable enough to provide solid starts with his solid command. Phelps also showed he’s got some great pickoff moves to erase those unlucky hits that every pitcher is going to unfortunately give up. The Yankees will be limiting his pitch count as he fills in for Sabathia, but that might actually be a good thing for fantasy owners.
With the season entering the stretch run, numerous leagues with inning limits are starting to force their owners to evaluate how they will fill their final innings. With a solid K-rate and one of the league’s best offenses behind him, Phelps is a perfect option for trying to stream some wins while not destroying your innings limit. He may not have the big double-digit strikeout games or hold teams to one or two hits, but he will keep the Yankees in games as he did last night and be in numerous situations where he can pick up the win.