3:24 pm May. 4, 2012
Lost in the turmoil of Mariano Rivera's devastating injury last night was the solid pitching performance by David Phelps.
Sure, the Yankees lost, 4-2, and Phelps lasted only four innings. Yet everything about his performance went according to plan.
Phelps, remember, had been pitching in long relief since the start of the season, with his max of 78 pitches thrown coming back on April 14. So throwing 85 pitches on Thursday night was right in line with the plan to stretch Phelps out.
And they were 85 effective ones. Phelps allowed two runs on six hits, didn't walk anybody and struck out five. Fifty-five of his 85 pitches were strikes, and he only tended to get into trouble when he fell behind hitters, which was rare.
On one of his few 3-1 counts all night, Phelps allowed a home run to Mike Moustakas. But the pitch, one of his few to range back over the middle of the plate, was a notable exception.
For the season, Phelps now has a 3.74 E.R.A., with solid peripherals to back that up: 19 strikeouts, and just seven walks, in 21 2/3 innings. Considering that Phelps replaced Freddy Garcia as the team's fifth starter, that is extremely good production if he can keep it up. The American League, in games started in 2012, has posted a 4.24 E.R.A., so Phelps can be the least important Yankee pitcher and still be pitching well above league average.
While it was generally assumed that Phelps was merely keeping a spot warm until Andy Pettitte pronounced himself ready to return, he might keep the job for longer than that, especially if the Yankees decide the former reliever Phil Hughes needs to return to the bullpen to help the Rivera-less relief corps. Either way, Phelps showed again last night that he is both a luxury for the Yankees, and a pitcher who would be a far larger part of the future plans for any other team.