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Saturday notes: Phelps keeps it simple in first spring start

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David Phelps guessed that he threw four offspeed pitches today. The rest of the time it was all fastballs, focused on control and command. He wanted to get ahead in the count, and he was happy with his ability to do that.

“Results are always going to matter to me,” Phelps said. “But as of right now, I’m happy my arm felt good. I felt my stuff is where it needed to be for right now. I’m really satisfied with the way the ball was coming out. That’s one of the biggest things for me is just, the ball is coming out, keeping it down and hitting my spots.”

This was an opportunity for Phelps to do more than that. The five favorites for the Yankees rotation won’t pitch in a game for another week — maybe more — and Phelps could have used this opportunity to try to make an overwhelming early impression. Instead, he kept it simple. Two innings. Three hits. No runs, no walks and no strikeouts.

“I’m not coming into the spring trying to beat somebody out for the spot,” he said. “I’m just trying to go out and continue what I was doing last year and have some success, and hopefully build my confidence up and get ready for the season to be ready to pitch in whatever role they ask me to. You saw last year, I pitched in a number of different of roles. Regardless of what they want me to do, I’m just trying to be ready to do whatever it is.”

[3]• The star of the show was right fielder Zoilo Almonte, who threw out a runner at third base and hit the two-run homer that gave the Yankees an early lead. The homer came off former Angels closer Jordan Walden (who actually got knocked around a little bit). “We’re excited about this (Almonte) kid,” Girardi said. “A switch-hitting corner outfielder that we think has a really good swing. He put up some decent numbers last year and moved up a little bit, so we’re excited about this kid. To see him start out today, I mean that’s really good, when you drive the ball the opposite way for a home run. He hit the ball hard.”

• Girardi specified that Derek Jeter didn’t only run on the field today, he actually ran the bases. “Slowly, though,” Girardi said. “He’s at least outside, doing some running, so that’s good.”

• Jeter running was probably the most significant thing any of the Yankees big league infielders did today, but here at Disney, Robinson Cano did homer and Eduardo Nunez had a sharp double. Mark Teixeira took an 0-for-3.

• Although he didn’t do it today, Phelps said he realizes he needs to throw more offspeed as the spring progresses. “As the spring goes on, you just throw it a little bit more and get more comfortable doing it,” Phelps said. “When the season starts, that’s the way I’ve got to pitch. Got to go out and do it.”

[4]• Girardi said he had a meeting with the Yankees catchers yesterday and stressed to them that defense is the most important thing in this competition for the starting job. “I want to hit, too,” Cervelli said. “But the priority here is the defense.”

• Speaking of Cervelli, he told the story of his parents flying up from Venezuela last season to help him get past the disappointment of being optioned back to the minor leagues. “I told them I’m fine,” Cervelli said. “But they’re 50-something years old, so they do whatever they want. They showed up in Buffalo. They said, ‘We’re here, so what are we going to do now? We’re going to follow the bus everywhere we go, so you better play better, and that’s it.’ … Just to see Mom and Dad in the stands was everything for me because it was a tough season in every aspect – no home, road trip all the time – but in the second half, I say, ‘No more complaints. Let’s go and let’s have fun and find a way.’”

• Girardi said minor league reliever Nick Goody was rear-ended last night. It was apparently a multi-car crash and Goody’s car was damaged pretty badly. An X-ray last night showed no broken bones, but Goody is going for an MRI just in case. For now they’re calling his injury a sprained ankle.

• Notable performances today: Jose Pirela had two hits … Austin Romine had two RBI … Melky Mesa had a single, a stolen base and a nice catch in deep center field … Juan Rivera had a hit and a walk, Matt Diaz went 0-for-3 with a GIDP … Minor league relievers Kelvin Perez, Branden Pinder and Chase Whitley combined for three scoreless innings allowing one hit and one walk. Whitley could be a dark horse bullpen candidate if certain doors open along the way.

• I’ll leave you with this final image, which I thought was cool: When the game finally ended, seven innings after his final pitch, Phelps positioned himself directly inside the door to the clubhouse so he could shake hands with everyone as they came in from the dugout. It’s a two-inning start in spring training, but he clearly still took this as his game and his responsibility.

Associated Press photos