Pressed into action due to erratic starting performances from Freddy Garcia, 25-year-old rookie David Phelps made his debut in the New York Yankees' starting rotation on Thursday.
A right-hander from St. Louis, Missouri, Phelps was called upon to start the series opener across the state on I-70 at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City.
Phelps had turned in a handful of solid relief appearances for the Yankees in 2012, but the starting assignment was his first as a major league pitcher.
Over four seasons in the Yankees' farm system, Phelps produced a 38-15 record with a 2.61 ERA. His minor league credentials and assured performances over the season's opening weeks earned him the nod when the Yankees could no longer tolerate Garcia's ineffectiveness.
Taking the mound against a Royals club that had yet to win at home, Phelps was tasked with adding some stability to a Yankee rotation beset by injuries and early struggles from a few of its members.
The Yankee hurler ran into trouble nearly immediately, likely battling some nerves during the first inning. Following a lead-off single to Jarrod Dyson, Phelps gave up a long fly ball off the bat of Alex Gordon, that was thankfully chased down by Yankee left-fielder Jayson Nix.
After the deep fly, Phelps attempted to pick Dyson off first, but uncorked a wild throw that bounced off the runner, allowing the speedy outfielder to advance to second. Dyson then moved to third on a wild pitch as Phelps dug himself into an early hole.
Thankfully, Phelps managed to calm his nerves to strike out Billy Butler and induce an inning-ending ground-out from Eric Hosmer, stranding Dyson at third. Though it took 21 pitches, he escaped his first inning as a starter with no damage on the scoreboard.
It didn't get any easier for Phelps in the second, as he battled through long at-bats with each Royal he faced, while allowing a long home run to center off the bat of third baseman Mike Moustakas. Phelps also allowed a double to second baseman Chris Getz, but he didn't come around to score. He needed 26 pitches to escape the second.
New York's offense tied the game on an RBI single by Mark Teixeira, but Phelps would give the lead back nearly immediately.
With the score now tied, Phelps allowed base-hits to three of the first four Royals he faced in the bottom half of the third, resulting in another run for the home club. Phelps was able to limit the damage to a single run, but the inning took its toll as it required 29 pitches to retire the Royals.
David Phelps concluded his starting debut with his strongest inning of the game, retiring Humberto Quintero, Getz and Alcides Escobar in order on only nine pitches.
Unfortunately, with his pitch count at 85, Joe Girardi removed Phelps from the game prior to the fifth inning, leaving the young starter in line for the loss.
Though he was only able to manage four innings in his first start of his major league career, David Phelps produced a respectable performance that likely earned him another start.
In four innings, he allowed two earned runs on six hits, with no walks and five strikeouts. Though he was inefficient with his pitch count, Phelps encouraged the Yankees by walking no one and throwing 55 of his 85 pitches for strikes. The high pitch counts were mostly due to tough at-bats by Kansas City hitters, rather than poor command on Phelps' part.
Utilizing a two-seam fastball with good movement, a four-seam fastball ranging from 89-94 MPH, a tight slider and curveball, with the very occasional changeup, Phelps was able to mix up his pitches well enough to keep the Royal from sitting on particular patterns.
Though he wasn't dominant and showed some minor signs of nerves during his start, Phelps exceeded every performance offered thus far by either Freddy Garcia or Phil Hughes throughout the first month-plus of the 2012 season.
If Phelps can work slightly deeper into the game next time he takes the mound, it is conceivable that he could stick around the Yankee rotation longer than a start or two.
With Michael Pineda out for the season, Hughes and Garcia pitching poorly and Ivan Nova appearing less-than dominant so far, the Yankees suddenly find themselves in a desperate situation.
For now at least, Phelps truncated starting performance offered the Yankees hope moving forward. If he can perhaps build upon his initial start, he could potentially ease the fears of a club now teetering on the brink of disaster.