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Many Not Surprised With Phelps’ Success

By Jed Weisberger ~ April 11th, 2012. Filed under: Digest Contributors, New York Yankees.

Even though he had pitched two-thirds of an inning effectively vs. the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., last Sunday, Yankees right-hander David Phelps really made his mark with his effort Tuesday night in Baltimore.

Phelps, 25 (he’ll turn 26 in October), threw 2.1 innings in the Yankees’ 5-4, 12-inning triumph, throwing 21 of 31 pitches for strikes – and first-strike pitches to six of seven hitters – and earned accolades throughout the clubhouse.

“He (Phelps) was great,’’ said Tuesday starter Freddy Garcia. Fellow reliever Cory Wade also added praises.

Phelps has been a winner throughout his tour of duty in the Yankees system since, after a stellar prep career in the St. Louis area, he was signed out of Notre Dame by scout Mike Gibbons after being drafted in the 14th round.

Though he earned his share of Big East accolades, the right-handed Phelps, listed at 6-foot-2, 185, was not rated as highly as some others in the Yankees’ star-crossed 2008 draft, in which two of their top three picks -  pitchers Gerrit Cole and Scott Bittle did not sign – and southpaw Jeremy Bleich has been saddled with injuries. He has carried that mantra – the first of that class to reach the majors – with him.

“I know, being a lower draft pick, that I have had to prove myself at every level I have pitched in,’’ said Phelps.  “That’s just the way it is, and I have no problem with it.

“As long as I can be effective, and trust my stuff, I knew I’d get my chance.’’

And he has, after a superlative spring training in which he earned both the James P. Dawson Award and the last Yankees roster spot when camp was broken.  This came after a 38-15. 2.61 mark in four minor-league seasons in which he recorded an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of 410-112 and a WHIP of 1.18.

What Phelps has is a fastball that sits in the low 90s – he was clocked at 92 Tuesday night and has touched 94-95 in the past – and an excellent moving curve that froze several Baltimore hitters Tuesday night. He also has an improving slider and legitimate changeup.

He pitched over 135 innings in his three full-season stops – Charleston, Trenton and Scranton-Wilkes-Barre except in 2011, when shoulder discomfort put him on the shelf for two months at Triple-A. After resting his shoulder, he returned to allow just two earned runs and a single walk in his final 19 innings.

Phelps allowed just 31 homers in 497 innings pitched in the minors. He knows he has to pitch within himself.

“I’m really both not surprised and very happy for David,’’ said Double-A Trenton pitching coach Tommy Phelps, who is no relation, but had the hurler in 2010, when he went 6-0, 2.04 in 14 starts for the Thunder, racking up a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 84-23 and earning Eastern League All-Star status. Phelps was promoted to Triple-A midway in 2010.

“The thing with David is the mental part of the game is there, and he’s got the stuff as well,’’ added Tommy Phelps. “All he needed was the chance to prove himself.

“He commands his fastball on both sides (of the plate) and is very good at reading swings of the batters. He’s also shown he can pitch multiple innings and keep hitters off-balance.  All the ingredients are there to be successful.’’

Trenton manager Tony Franklin, who won his 1,000th game as a minor-league skipper Wednesday as his Thunder (3-3) club dominated the Portland Sea Dogs, 10-1, adds his reasoning leading to Phelps’ success.

“David was always so good at hitting spots,’’ said Franklin. “There were some mechanics and command issues he had to work on when we had him in 2010. He’s done what he needed to do and is a much-better pitcher now.  I feel the same way about (right-handers) Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell, who were with us in 2010.’’

“I can’t remember what exactly was in my end-of-the-season report on David’s 2010 performance, but I’m pretty sure I thought he would make it to the major leagues.’’

There was talk of Phelps replacing Garcia in the Yankees rotation after Tuesday’s effort. Phelps has always projected as a back-of the-rotation starter.  To be a starter in the American League East, one would legitimately think his secondary stuff might need a bit more work, which Phelps is certainly willing to do.

Right now, however, he has earned a role which proved just as critical in Baltimore Tuesday night.

Phelps mentioned in the Yankees clubhouse Tuesday how he is “having the time of his life.’’  You can bet, given his makeup, he’s taking none of that for granted.

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Jed spent 35 years in the newspaper business working as both a writer and editor, in both sports and news under tight deadline pressure. As both sports editor at the Indiana (Pa.) Gazette and a copy editor/columnist at The Times of Trenton, he made daily decisions on overall coverage and designed and produced thousands of pages and special sections. Since accepting a buyout from The Times, he has concentrated on broadening his writing and editing horizons to the medical, academic and business fields. Anyone is welcome to Google Jed to see the different places in print, on the Web and in front of the camera his professional expertise has spread to.

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1 Response to Many Not Surprised With Phelps’ Success

  1. Tim

    I know you have been complimentary of Phelps in past. Kudos to you and I hope he has a great career

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