Young Yankees prospects don’t always like Tampa. It’s nothing against the area, it’s just that spring training is down here. So is extended spring training, and the Gulf Coast League and the High-A affiliate. At some point, young players just get sick of being down here and want to get their career moving closer to New York.
David Phelps loves it down here.
This is where his first child was born. It’s where he made his first big league roster, where he was first introduced as a Major Leaguer, and it’s where he made his Major League debut with a strikeout. He said he smiled a little when he walked into Tropicana Field on Monday.
“It’s almost like déjà vu,” he said. “I’m just going to try to go out and be efficient. The last time I had this chance, I got into some really deep counts, got my pitch count real high. I’ll try to do the opposite this time, be on the attack from the first pitch and just go out there and try to go as long as I can.”
Phelps has pitched well since winning that final spot in the bullpen out of spring training. He actually faced the Rays in one of his two big league starts and went 4.2 scoreless innings. He was demoted strictly because the Yankees were running out of chances to use him and they didn’t want his arm wasted, so he was sent down to the minors to work on becoming a starter again.
Of course… when he was sent down, he was sent to Tampa.
“I understood why I got sent down,” he said. “I wasn’t pitching and we had two long guys. It wasn’t doing me any good to just sit there and not pitch and only throw a bullpen every couple of days. It was good because I got to come down here and work on some stuff, and I feel like it’s really paying off.”
Phelps can throw 80-85 pitches this afternoon. The Yankees will have D.J. Mitchell available for long relief behind him. Ultimately, this may be nothing more than a spot start — when CC Sabathia comes off the DL, Phelps could go back into his long relief role or back to the minor leagues to stay stretched out — but in this moment and in this place, it’s a chance for Phelps to prove himself all over again.
“I want to be a starter,” he said. “The chance came, and I’m trying to make the most of it. I feel like I’ve grown a lot. I’m still kind of learning what I can do and what I can’t do against these hitters, and I guess I’ll continue to learn each time I pitch. I’m just trying to get better each time out. … My comfort level is a little bit higher now. I kinda know what to expect going into my start here. It’s reassuring knowing I’ve done it already. My nerves aren’t going to be as bad as last time. You just go out and have fun.”
Associated Press photo