Your mission, Mr. Phelps ...

... is to fill the very large shoes of Carsten Charles Sabathia, at least for the next two starts, beginning with tomorrow afternoon's series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

Those are David Phelps' orders, and the 25-year-old righty, who made two so-so starts earlier in the season while the Yankees were waiting on Andy Pettitte, says he is better equipped this time to handle it.

"My comfort level is a little bit higher now,'' said Phelps, who will face David Price in a 3:10 p.m. Fourth of July start. "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.''

It also helps that in his most recent start, on May 9, Phelps faced the Rays at Yankee Stadium, and a slightly tougher Rays lineup at that, since it included Matt Joyce, currently on the DL with an oblique strain. "I got a chance to face a lot of their hitters and I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do against them,'' he said.

That day, Phelps held the Rays scoreless but didn't make it out of the fifth inning due to the bugaboo of his first attempt at starting in the big leagues, a high pitch count caused by lack of command.

"I’m just gonna try to go out and be efficient,'' he said. "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.''

A couple of weeks ago, Phelps got caught in a numbers game when David Robertson came off the disabled list, and was sent down to Class A Tampa to stay in the routine of starting every five days. That turned out to be a good move when both Sabathia and Pettitte went on the DL the same day, creating an immediate need for another starter.

"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.''

Phelps made a couple of starts for Tampa, but never got higher than 65 pitches in any game. Tomorrow, the Yankees are looking for 80-85 pitches out of him. Asked how much he was looking forward to his second chance, Phelps, who attended Notre Dame, said, "Immensely. I want to be a starter. The chance came and I’m trying to make the most of it. I feel like I’ve grown a lot.''