You would think by now the New York Yankees would know how to handle a young starting pitcher. Yes, every arm is different, but after having some “can’t miss” prospects go through the rigors of the rotation/bullpen shuffle, shouldn’t they at least have an inkling of an idea about how to handle these situations?
Yankees rookie David Phelps made the team out of spring training, ready to be the long man and an occasional fill-in starter if needed. While he was a starter during his time in the minors, the Yankees felt he had a better arm than others and wanted him on the big league squad. No one took issue with this measure.
Injuries beset the team and Phelps did indeed have to make some starts. Then Andy Pettitte returned to the team pushing Phelps back to the bullpen. After a few weeks, the Yankees determined, and rightfully so in my opinion, that they should stretch Phelps back out so that he could be a starter for the team when needed. He was optioned on 6/14 to Class-A Tampa to begin his work back into a viable starter.
Just over two weeks into the stretching out process, Phelps was recalled by the Yankees on 6/29 as insurance for Adam Warren who was set to make his first major league start. He did indeed have to pitch in that game and subsequently got the starting nod on July 4th when CC Sabathia was set to miss his first start while on the disabled list. He pitched well in the start but was on a pitch count as he was not fully stretched out. He was optioned to Double-A Trenton the next day in an effort to continue his working up to handle a full-game.
That minor league stint lasted less time than the first as the Yankees deemed Phelps was needed in relief and absconded with the idea to stretch him out. He has been lights out pitching in short relief since being called back up. His longest appearance since his most recent return was 2 1/3 innings (27 pitches). Here are his pitch totals in his six appearances since the return to the pen; 27, 19, 20, 33, 36 and 11. It is safe to say that Phelps has settled into the role and he’s been outstanding in it, allowing 0 runs, 2 hits, 2 walks and has struck out 14 batters in 10 innings. His performance notwithstanding, have the Yankees screwed up?
Here is the issue; where is Phelps’ arm better served? Is it as a fifth, sixth or seventh inning reliever or as a starter? My assumption at the time that the Yankees decided to stretch him out was they felt his arm was worth more to the team as a starter, especially with the emergence of Cody Eppley as a viable right-handed middle relief option. The flip side of the coin, where they seem to have landed now, is they became more content with their starting pitching, so he’d help more in relief. Since the team insists on using both Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova as starters, then there is no room for Phelps in the rotation and as they determined during spring training, Phelps is too good to let sit on the farm, so they’ll utilize him as they are today.
But, when do the mediocre and short outings the Yankees are getting from Garcia and Nova become detrimental to team? In my opinion that ship has sailed, their performance is beginning to wear down the bullpen right before our eyes. Also, flung out the window is the option of moving Phelps back into the rotation this season. I doubt the Yankees want to try to stretch him out once more with less than two months of the season left. If they were to do that, they’d have to wait until about the end of this month or early September before he’d be ready to start games in which he could throw 100-plus pitches. That coupled with the fact that the Yankees are hoping that Pettitte will be close to returning in early September severely limits the notion that Phelps will start another game this season. Of course, this is a Yankees team well known for screwing up the progression of a starting pitcher, so who knows.
The Yankees seem to have learned nothing from the way they handled Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. They have essentially tied themselves up in reference to Phelps having an impact as a starter this season and placed too much stock in having the best arms in the system on the big league squad in minimal roles. With Hughes taking a step back last night and not that far removed from a poor beginning of the season, in addition to the uneven performances from Garcia and Nova, wouldn’t be nice if the Yankees had a pitcher of Phelps’ caliber ready to toss significant innings if needed? Should the Yankees be leaving their season in the hands of three completely inconsistent arms and the hopes that a 40-year-old can recuperate from a substantial injury in time for the playoff push? Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda can only give so many innings.
If the Yankees were desperate for relief options then it would be hard to fault them for sticking with Phelps in the role as he has pitched extremely well all season no matter the inning he entered the game. But, middle relievers are a dime a dozen. How many of us thought we’d get as many effective innings in 2011 out of Cory Wade? Did we truly feel that Eppley and Clay Rapada would be as effective as they have for as long as they have this season? Couldn’t the Yankees have made a push for a reliever at the trade deadline if needed? Now, a transition back to the rotation is likely too late for Phelps and quite honestly could be detrimental to his progress. This doesn’t even touch upon the fact that if Phelps was part of the Yankees’ 2013 rotation plans, he’s taken a step back, way back actually, in the number of innings he’s tossed, and his innings count would be heavily monitored next year. So, they have essentially retarded Phelps’ growth by a full season.
At present, the Baltimore Orioles are lurking, the Tampa Bay Rays are within striking distance and time is running out for the Yankees to put this division race to bed. Unfortunately, the Yankees have once again faltered when it came to managing the progression of a talented starting pitcher. Let’s hope their handling of Phelps is not as detrimental to his development as it was for Joba and Hughes, or that this current misfire in use of talent sabotaged to their chances of winning the American League East.
Topics: Adam Warren, AL East, American League East, Andy Pettitte, Baltimore Orio, Bullpen, CC Sabathia, Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley, Cory Wade, Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Joba Chamberlain, New York Yankees, Phil Hughes, Rotation, Tampa Bay Rays, Yankees