David Phelps said stressing out over a spot in the Yankees’ starting rotation each of the past two springs didn’t do him any good.
So he’s not going to do it now with the Marlins.
“Once April hits, I’m sure I’ll know what my role will be, and that’s all I’m really going to focus on,” the 28-year-old right-hander said Saturday after tossing three impressive scoreless innings in a 4-0 victory over the Nationals.
“If it comes to it that they need me to do something [other than start], I’ll find out and roll with it. That’s kind of what I’ve had to do the last couple years. Fortunately, I’ve gotten to be pretty good at it.”
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Whether he serves as the fifth starter or as the long reliever, the Marlins are happy to have Phelps, who has plenty of experience pitching in the bullpen and as a starter from his time with the Yankees over the past three years.
And that’s a valuable asset, considering what the Marlins went through last season when they set a franchise record with 13 starting pitchers. Only two teams in baseball went through more starters — the Rangers and Rockies with 15 each.
Phelps was one of 13 pitchers to make a start for the Yankees last year, but he finished with the third-most starts (17) on the team after beginning April in the bullpen. He has done that in each of his first three years in baseball before getting roped into starting duty.
Armed with a fastball that touches into the mid-90s and is effective because he can hit corners on both sides of the plate, Phelps is 12-11 with a 4.34 ERA in 40 career starts and 3-3 with a 3.84 ERA in 47 relief appearances in his career.
On Saturday, while last year’s fifth starter Tom Koehler pitched in a simulated game in Jupiter, Phelps continued to make a case for a spot in this year’s rotation. He gave up just one hit, walked one and struck out four (all looking) against a Nationals lineup featuring most of its regulars, including Bryce Harper.
“I would have been happier if I hadn’t thrown so many pitches those first two innings, but I’m happy with zeroes any day,” said Phelps, who threw 36 of his 58 pitches for strikes and is now 2-0 with one earned run allowed over eight innings this spring.
“[Saturday] was the first day I got a couple called strikes with the slider and the curveball. So it’s making progress.”
Phelps admits he wasn’t exactly thrilled when he first heard he and third baseman Martin Prado had been traded this winter for Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones and minor-leaguer Domingo German. Phelps said he loved pitching in New York. But the more he looked at the Marlins’ young roster the more excited he said he got.
“It’s really a breath of fresh air just to come in and, you know, have a core in place that is younger than me,” Phelps said. “It’s foreign to me. I’ve been fortunate enough to play with Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, CC Sabathia, where I’ve been just the one walking around on tip-toes making sure I’m not getting in their way.
“It’s nice to come into a group of guys fighting. It’s a lot different being the team with the target on your back all the time, being the team where you’ve got to beat everyone’s expectations for you. It’s obviously fun being the team everyone picks to win, but I’m really excited about this team.”
Although the Marlins don’t have the kind of starting pitching depth the Nationals do — Washington has six starters who won at least 10 games and posted ERAs between 2.41 and 3.57 last year — they’re hardly starving for it, either.
Ace Jose Fernandez is waiting in the wings and scheduled to return to action from Tommy John surgery sometime after mid-June. Then there’s Koehler and fellow right-handers Mat Latos, Henderson Alvarez, Dan Haren and Jarred Cosart, who all appear to be locked into spots. The Marlins also have left-hander Brad Hand, who is out of minor-league options and has started in the past.
Last year, 18 major-league teams used 10 starters or more throughout the season. Marlins manager Mike Redmond said having 10 available starting arms is now an ideal number.
“You hope you don’t have to go that deep, but you never know,” he said. “I feel we’re way better prepared now than we have been in the past. And that’s good.”
SCARE FOR DIETRICH
Infielder Derek Dietrich had a scare Saturday when he was struck in the neck by a Matt Thornton fastball in the third inning. Dietrich was knocked to the ground and layed there for a few moments before being helped up. He stayed in the game.
“Anytime you get hit up in the neck area it’s scary, especially after what we went through last year,” Redmond said. “Thankfully, he’s OK, probably a little sore. But he’ll be fine.”
Dietrich has been a magnet for baseballs throughout his career. He has been hit by a pitch in 17 of his 416 career big-league plate appearances, and last spring a bad hop on a ground ball broke his nose.
Last week, Dietrich said he wanted to put the bad bounce and a rough 2014 season behind him. He hit just .228 and made 10 errors after starting the season as the primary second baseman with Rafael Furcal injured.
With Dee Gordon firmly in place at second base, Dietrich, 25, is trying to become a utility infielder for the Marlins, working mostly at first and third this spring. He started at third on Saturday.
“He’s just learning,” Marlins infield coach Perry Hill said. “Third [base] he’s picking up OK. First [base], there’s a lot of little nuances he’s got to learn, still has to iron things out. His value to him and to us would be to play all four [infield spots] in the National League.”