Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
Can last year's long reliever beat out Ivan Nova for the fifth starter spot out of Spring Training?
Name: David Phelps
Position: Starter (RHP)
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 26 (born 10/9/1986)
Height: 6'2" Weight: 200 lbs.
Remaining Contract: Under team control. Arbitration-eligible in 2015, free agent in 2019
2012 Statistics: (MLB) 33 games, 11 starts, 99.2 IP, 3.34 ERA, 4.32 FIP, 8.67 K/9, 3.43 BB/9
Most Yankee Spring Training competitions aren't really competitions at all. The team generally knows who they want to fill a spot and they might call it a competition to bring out the best in every player vying for the spot, but generally the results don't matter too much. The battle between Ivan Nova and David Phelps for the fifth starter spot may end up being in name only if they go with the more established Nova, but Phelps' extremely impressive Spring Training to this point should at least give them a bit of pause before they hand over the job to Nova because he's been there before.
In fourteen innings so far this spring, Phelps has allowed only one run. Small sample size, to be sure, but he's looked really impressive out there. Working against Phelps is the fact that he has had success out of the bullpen and the team might be reluctant to mess with what worked last year. Nova hasn't exactly given up his hold on the spot with his results in spring, either. The reality is that this team will almost certainly need more than five starters over the course of the season, so even if Phelps starts the season in the bullpen, he will almost assuredly find his way into the rotation for a few starts before 2013 is over. That is a pretty nice insurance policy for if Nova pitches the way he did for stretches of last year or someone gets injured and needs to miss considerable time.
The safe bet is that Phelps will start this season working out of the Yankee bullpen as the long reliever and first man up in case of an injury to a member of the rotation. He may deserve the spot when all is said and done in Spring Training, but if Nova is anywhere close to as good, it's hard to see them going with Phelps in the rotation and Nova in the bullpen. The starting rotation will be pretty open after this season with the expected departures of Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and possibly Phil Hughes. If that ends up being the case, Phelps should be one of the first to get a long look for the rotation in 2014 if his season goes as well as it did a year ago. There's always a chance that the league will adjust to what he's throwing and he'll be less effective than he was a year ago. It's not as if last year came without bumps in the road while Phelps was adjusting to being a major leaguer. How he is able to pitch with the batters having more familiarity will determine whether he'll be seen as more of a long term option as a starter or if he's kind of doomed to a life of bullpen work unless traded.
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