Despite loss, Phelps keeps displaying value
If Jon Lester had pitched all season the way he did Saturday at Yankee Stadium the Red Sox might not be 12 ½ games behind the Yankees in the American League East standings. Yankees fans are grateful that Lester had not been nearly as sharp this year as in Boston’s 4-1 victory.
The lefthander improved his career record against the Yankee to 9-4 with a 3.81 ERA, including 7-2 with a 3.80 ERA at the Stadium. Overall, it has been a dreadful year for Lester, who is 7-10 with a 5.03 ERA overall.
The Yankees found out that sometimes the home run is not enough, especially if there is only one of them and no one was on base. Curtis Granderson accounted for the Yankees’ lone run Saturday with his 32nd home run. It was the sixth home run by the Yankees in the two games against Boston. All have been with the bases empty.
Granderson was the only Yankees hitter to be perfect against Lester with a double and a walk to go with his dinger. Granderson’ homer was his 11th this season off left-handed pitching and 27th since the start of 2011, the most in the major leagues over that span.
Nick Swisher, who has had a monstrous homestand, had three hits, two off Lester, who also struck him out once. Swish is batting .417 with one double, four home runs and 11 RBI on the homestand. He is hitting .324 with five doubles, four home runs and 15 RBI in August and .333 with two doubles, four home runs and 14 RBI in 11 games since moving into the 2-hole in the batting order 10 days ago. Swisher has crushed Boston pitching this season to the tune of .485 in 33 at-bats.
But a season-long problem bugged the Yankees Saturday. They were hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. They had the leadoff batter on base in three innings against Lester but failed to capitalize. Deter Jeter, serving as the designated hitter for the second straight game, was 0-for-3 with a walk as his 13-game hitting streak was snuffed.
Also for the second straight game, first baseman Mark Teixeira was out of the lineup because of left wrist inflammation. He is not likely to start Sunday night in the final game of the homestand.
A positive note despite the losing decision was the start by David Phelps, who has pitched quite well since the Yankees recalled him from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre July 18. He is 2-1 with a 2.01 ERA in nine appearances totaling 22 1/3 innings since that date. Taking the place of disabled CC Sabathia in the rotation for the second turn, Phelps gave up three runs and seven hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. In five spot start for the Yankees this season, the righthander is 1-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 24 2/3 innings.
“He mixed his pitches very well,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Even the home run was a ball off the plate. We like what he has done. He’s a valuable guy because he can do many things well.”
The home run to which Girardi referred was a two-run shot to left field by Adrian Gonzalez in the first inning. The opposite-field blow proved all the offense Boston would need. The Red Sox got a run off Phelps in the fifth after two were out on a single by new Yankee killer Pedro Ciriaco and a double by Nick Punto. Ciriaco was 4-for-4 with a stolen base and is 15-for-29 (.517) with three doubles, one triple and seven RBI against the Yankees this year.
Sabathia has been telling writers that he intends to make his next start when he is eligible to come off the DL Friday at Cleveland, but the ever-cautious Girardi is not ready to make that assignment in pen just yet and has told Phelps to be ready to start if need be.
Phelps’ versatility has been a positive key for the Yankees. It remains to be seen where he will fit in when Sabathia and eventually Andy Pettitte return to active duty. Phelps has been effective as a long man, but that bullpen is crowded now that Derek Lowe is here. Girardi’s use of Lowe to get one out in the ninth inning may be an indication he would like to use him the way he once did Cory Wade as a right-handed compliment to Boone Logan.
With Joba Chamberlain struggling in his comeback from Tommy John surgery and an injured ankle, Phelps may find a permanent spot on the staff the rest of the way.