Phelps makes pitch to stay in rotation

Brad Penner/US Presswire

David Phelps didn't go a full five innings, but he did manage to blank the Rays over 4-2/3.The Yankees' 4-1 loss to the Rays on Wednesday night will be remembered for how it ended.

But don't forget how it began.

David Phelps, making just the second major-league start of his career, pitched 4-2/3 shutout innings against one of the best teams in the American League.

"He had outstanding stuff tonight," said manager Joe Girardi. "And it’s a tough lineup -- you’ve got some guys who've really got some power in the middle of that lineup, the left-handed hitters that you’re gonna face, and he did a good job."

Phelps needed 28 pitches to get out of the first inning, after giving up a double to Ben Zobrist to lead off the game, and walks to Carlos Pena and Luke Scott. But he stranded the bases loaded, and cruised through the next three innings, giving up just one single along the way.

"He had a tough first inning, and you always wonder how a young kid’s gonna respond after that," said Girardi. "He responded great."

After retiring the first two batters in the top of the fifth, the 25-year-old rookie was one pitch away from putting Zobrist away to end the inning, and putting himself in line for his first major-league win. But Zobrist smacked an 0-2 pitch into left-center field for a double.

Phelps walked the next two batters, Pena and B.J. Upton, and with the bases juiced again and the Yankees clinging to a 1-0 lead, Girardi pulled the plug on Phelps after 89 pitches.

"It wasn’t so much fatigue," said Phelps. "I might have been a little frustrated with the 0-2 pitch, and I carried it over."

Boone Logan came on in relief and struck out Matt Joyce to end the threat. Logan, Cory Wade and Rafael Soriano kept the Rays scoreless until the ninth, when David Robertson blew the save and took the loss.

Phelps has now made eight appearances for the Yankees this season, since making the team out of spring training as a long reliever. He has pitched 26-1/3 innings, with a very respectable 3.08 ERA.

Fellow 25-year-old Phil Hughes, in comparison, has a 6.67 ERA over 28-1/3 innings.

With 39-year-old Andy Pettitte set to rejoin the Yankees' starting rotation on Sunday, one of these two is headed to the bullpen, or the minor leagues.

Hughes has the most major-league experience, and the most upside in the eyes of the organization. But don't count out Phelps just yet, with Hughes having one more chance to impress the team's hierarchy, or distress them, on Saturday.

When asked about the impending decision following the game on Wednesday night, Girardi said, "Those are things that we’ve gotta talk about. I just came off the field five minutes ago, and walked in here. But the kid pitched his heart out, he really did."

"I’m not really worried about that," said Phelps. "Hopefully it will just take care of itself. Whatever role I’m in, I’m just gonna try to help the team win as much as I can."