Plenty could change between now and month’s end. Despite their stated lack of intention, the Yankees could make a play for Cole Hamels. They could look into Matt Garza or Ryan Dempster. But if their behavior at the past few deadlines is any indication, they’ll probably make minor moves at most. That means riding out internal options. David Phelps, then, could play a significant role in the second half.
Sent down in order to stretch back out as a starter, Phelps got recalled a bit prematurely. He was scheduled to throw 50 pitches in a minor league game last Friday, but the Yankees decided they’d rather have him as a caddy for Adam Warren. That proved a prescient move, as the Yankees leaned on Phelps for 3.1 innings. He wasn’t exactly great, allowing two runs, but he did strike out five. It was pretty clear that he was going to take the ball again in five days.
Again on a pitch limit, Phelps tossed 4.1 quality innings against the Rays yesterday, allowing just two hits to go with three walks and eight strikeouts. Chances are he would have pitched considerably deeper if not for the pitch count — hew was at 81 pitches through those 4.1 innings. Next time out, chances are Phelps will be ready to go the distance. As Mike mentioned earlier Phelps will likely get sent down before tomorrow’s game. The All-Star break gives the Yanks a chance to rework the rotation, and also gives Phelps to get a start in the minors. He can likely go 100 pitches, which will take off the reins when he returns to the majors — probably July 17th vs. the Blue Jays, so he can make a start any day from the 9th through the 12th.
If Phelps has any one thing to improve on as he enters the second half in the rotation, it’s his pitch efficiency. He’s been top notch in terms of results, a 3.05 ERA in his 41.1 innings. He’s also been serviceable by peripheral-based stats: 4.38 FIP, 3.90 xFIP, 3.54 SIERA. The problem is that he’s getting himself pulled from games prematurely. In his three starts he’s pitched just 13 innings. Part of that has been based on usage limits, but in some ways it has been based on his own performance. He’s used nearly 20 pitches per inning and 4.4 pitches per batter as a starter. That’s just not going to work if Phelps is going to remain in the rotation.
As a reliever Phelps has been a bit more efficient. He’s used 17 pitches per inning and 3.99 per batter. Those still aren’t great numbers overall, though. Yet if he can get even to that level as a starter, it will be a much-needed improvement for the second half. If Phelps is going to stay in the rotation until Andy Pettitte returns, the Yankees need him to eat at least six innings per start, lest they overtax the bullpen. At 17 pitches per inning he’d be over 100 pitches by the time he finished six. At his current 20 pitches per inning as a starter, he’d be at that threshold after five.
The good news is that this seems to be Phelps’s most significant issue. He has good stuff, and he doesn’t, or at least hasn’t yet, let innings get out of hand. His strikeout rate is well above league average, and his walk rate isn’t quite too high. Those seem like tougher areas on which to improve mid-season. Phelps has this one task in front of him, to put away batters with fewer pitches, and he can get cracking on it in the no-pressure environment of the minors. His success will make the Yankees’ lives much easier as they approach the deadline and home stretch.