Here is a story that I wrote for today’s edition of The Journal News:
By Vincent Z. Mercogliano
NEW YORK — As a St. Louis native, there was no American League team closer to Yankees rookie David Phelps’ hometown than the Kansas City Royals. With Freddy Garcia being bounced from the Yankees’ starting rotation due to ineffectiveness, Phelps will take the ball for his first major-league start in an ideal situation.
“I’ll try as much as I can to take it like it’s another game, but it’s a big deal for me (to start today),” Phelps said. “It’s going to be awesome. I’ll have a lot of family there. I’ll hopefully go out and do what I’ve been doing.”
The 25-year-old right-hander estimated that he’ll have at least 25 friends and relatives making the 3 1/2 hour drive to Kansas City to see him pitch in the first game of a four-game set against the Royals.
While Phelps seems thrilled to be pitching in front of his loved ones, manager Joe Girardi knows that the emotions that come with this type of moment can be overwhelming.
“I think you have to worry about that a little bit,” Girardi said. “But I think what has probably helped him is that he’s been thrust into a role that he’s never done before, and not in an easy situation, and he’s done OK. So he’s got that nervousness part (out of the way). Managing some of the other things can be difficult sometimes.”
After starting in the minors for the past four seasons, Phelps was asked to join the Yankees’ bullpen as their long reliever to start the season. He has a 3.57 ERA in 17 2/3 innings pitched with an impressive 1.08 WHIP, which earned him the opportunity to start.
“Being a long man, it’s kind of the same process as being a starter,” he said. “You want to go out there and give as many innings as you can and limit the damage as much as possible. You’re going to take that into a start, too. You want to go out there, throw as many as you can, save the bullpen and obviously give your team a chance to win.”
Phelps is among three starting pitchers who were effective for the Yankees’ Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate last season, but are considered to be second-level prospects. Along with D.J. Mitchell and Adam Warren, Phelps has had significant success in the minor leagues, but he’s never been viewed as a top-of-the-line prospect in the way that younger arms such as Manny Baneulos and Dellin Betances have been.
With Andy Pettitte on the fast track back to the majors, Phelps will have to be lights out if he has any chance of remaining in the rotation long-term.
“I learned early on, especially here, that if you start thinking about the future you’re just going to prove yourself wrong,” he said. “I’m just going to worry about tomorrow and go from there.”