How cool is David Phelps these days? Standing at his locker after tonight’s win, he was surrounded by media, answering questions behind a wall of television cameras and tape recorders, when pitching coach Larry Rothschild walked by and flipped him the game ball. Phelps snatched it out of the air, dropped it to his feet and looked up to answer the next question.
“I went through the lineup,” he said. “I got to face their top three hitters three times, and it was just going out and proving I can pitch deeper into a game. It’s a huge confidence boost. … They’re very big shoes to fill. What (CC Sabathia) brings to this team is that stability. He goes out every fifth day and gives us a chance to win every single time out. He’s been the anchor of our staff for the entire time that he’s been here, and to go out there and give our team a chance to win in his spot is huge.”
When the trade deadline came and went, the Yankees made no move to bolster their pitching staff, choosing to trust in-house options like Phelps. Of course, it took less than two weeks for Sabathia to land on the disabled list. Phelps moved into Sabathia’s rotation spot and Derek Lowe signed off the scrapheap to fill Sabathia’s spot on the roster. Tonight, those two replacements combined to allow two runs on eight hits and one walk, beating the Rangers and making a statement: This battered Yankees pitching staff just might have enough left to keep that top spot in the American League.
“I don’t know how you can ask two guys to do any more than that,” manager Joe Girardi said. “To hold a team like Texas down to two runs and give yourself a chance to win a ballgame, that’s really stepping up.”
It was quite a Yankees debut for Lowe, who pitched four scoreless and showed he has something left in the tank afterall. It was another milestone for Phelps, who’s breakout season now includes his first major-league win as a starter. In three previous attempts he’d failed to pitch through the fifth inning.
Tonight he threw 26 pitches in first inning, burning through nearly a third of his limited pitch count. The Rangers had scored their first run on a broken-bat single, and they increased that lead with a leadoff homer in the second. From there, Phelps retired 10 of the 14 batters he faced, and he picked off two of the four who reached.
“He’s just focused out there,” Russell Martin said. “He doesn’t let anything get to him. He just competes, pitch after pitch. He’s the type of guy you like having out there.”
Said Girardi: “We’ve seen him grow up a lot from the 2011 spring training until now. I’m not really surprised, just the way he’s went about his business. We saw a different guy in spring training and we’re seeing a much different guy this year. I’m not really surprised.”
• Lowe got his first save since August 12, 2001 when he was with the Red Sox. According to Elias, his 11 year and one day between saves is the longest such gap since Darren Oliver went nearly 16 years between saves from 1994 through 2010. “I’m not going to lie to you, and say I’m not going to sleep with a smile tonight,” Lowe said. “It’s a pretty good way to start your career here.”
• Lowe said he actually thought about picking up a cheap save when the Yankees sent him back out for the ninth. “I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “I think I was throwing below the speed limit there in the last inning. But it’s been a long day. To get back to a regular baseball routine — just a great start, and like I said, just here to help out. My role’s probably going to be like it is today: Just save the bullpen. It’s very important to have the back-end guys not have to pitch if they don’t have to. So hopefully this will benefit us for a couple days.”
• According to Elias, 15 rookie pitches have started against the Rangers since June 13. Phelps is the second to earn a win. The first? Former Yankees minor leaguer Jose Quintana. Of course.
• Phelps threw 26 pitches in the first inning. “I wasn’t really thinking about my pitch count,” he said. “I wasn’t really thinking about how long I was going to go. I knew as long as I was going to go, I had to keep us in the game, especially after giving up two runs early. I just went out there and I was trying to throw up as many zeros as I could regardless of how many innings it was going to be.”
• What made Phelps effective? “He was just throwing strikes,” Martin said. “He was attacking the strike zone and keeping the hitters off balance by throwing off speed strikes. Just using that cutter to get them off that fastball a little bit. Just making pitches. They got one run off a broken bat and another one off a pretty good pitch.”
• The Yankees have hit nine grand slams this season, one shy of their franchise record set in 1987 and matched in 2010 and 2011. They have 29 grand slams since the start of 2010, more than twice the total of any other team.
• Swisher, Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones, Mark Teixeira, Raul Ibanez, Derek Jeter and Eric Chavez all have more than 200 career home runs. With Swisher joining the list, they now have a Major League-high six players who have 15 homers this year (Cano, Granderson, Ibanez, Rodriguez, Swisher and Teixeira).
• Eric Chavez might join that 15-homer list soon. He hit his 13th tonight and has 10 home runs in his past 36 games. “It’s hard to argue with what he’s done,” Girardi said. “He has been great for us. He’s in the middle of one rally, adds an add-on run later on to make it 6-2, and those runs are important because you can give Robertson, Soriano and some of your guys a day off.”
• Phelps picked off two base runners tonight. The pickoff at first base was called from the bench. The pickoff at second was simply Phelps recognizing the Elvis Andrus was too far off the bag. “Anytime you can get an out with those types of hitters they have, we’ll take it,” Martin said. “Especially when they’re in scoring position.”
• Girardi said he’s not sure when Lowe could pitch again. He’ll be unavailable for at least two days, probably three. Lowe thinks he could, if necessary, pitch tomorrow. “I told them today, I said, I’ll be ready every day,” Lowe said. “Now will I probably be up tomorrow? Probably not. But I’m going to prepare every single day you’re in the bullpen — that’s your job, to be ready every day, so I’m going to show up tomorrow ready to go.”
• Alex Rodriguez is scheduled to have an X-ray tomorrow. It will have been three weeks since the injury.
• Let’s give the final word to Swisher: “I think our whole mindset is just win every game. Every single game, whether you’re playing a first-place team or whether you’re playing a last-place team, you’ve got to go out and win games. That lead there dwindled a little bit, so we’re doing our best to up that a little bit.”
Associated Press photos