Yankees Pregame Notebook: Joe Girardi eager for David Phelps' first start of the season

05/01/2013 6:23 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

David Phelps hits the mound for his first start tonight against the Astros.(AP)
David Phelps, who has gone 1-1 with a 5.29 ERA in six appearances (17 innings) this season, will make his first start of 2013 tonight as the Yankees host the Houston Astros in the rubber match of their three-game set. Phelps was 2-2 with a 3.77 ERA in 11 starts last year, and manager Joe Girardi is looking forward to seeing how he performs in his first crack this season.

“It’s a good opportunity for him; we love what he’s done over the last couple years, both in the rotation and in the bullpen, and we think he’s progressed well,” Girardi said.

Phelps, who threw a season-high 77 pitches after replacing Ivan Nova last Friday night, will be on a pitch count of about 90-95, according to Girardi, who hopes to get the righty into the latter innings.

“I think it’s important that we get as much as we can out of him, because it helps your bullpen,” Girardi said. “especially after the other day where Andy (Pettitte) didn’t give us a lot of distance so we had to use the other two kids (Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren) a lot.”

As for the lineup behind Phelps, Chris Stewart will be starting at catcher once again, with Girardi saying without really saying it that his experience will likely make him the “everyday” catcher for now.

“Stewie’s a veteran and he’s been a round and knows the pitching staff, so he’s going to get a lot of playing time here,” Girardi said. “I’d given Cervelli three or four out five starts, so Stew’s probably going to get a good amount, but I could change my mind later on. It’s not really different in a sense.”

Brett Gardner will get the day off – with Girardi saying he wanted to spread out off days for his outfielders against lefties and “Ichiro has been hot” – so Ichiro will slide over to center field and Ben Francisco will make his first start of the season in the right field.

Francisco has appeared mostly as the DH this season and has hit just .103 in 29 at-bats, but Girardi isn’t concerned that he’ll be feeling any added pressure to perform tonight or any other night.

“He’s struggled, but he’s had some good at-bats, and you don’t want a guy to feel like every at-bat is the end of the world; just go out and play and take care of what you can take care of,” Girardi said. “Go out and have good at-bats. People start talking about what will happen when guys get back, but a lot can happen between now and then.”

Francisco himself said he’s doing the best he can to stay ready by shagging fly balls during batting practice and “making it as game-like as I can,” and also acknowledged that he has “hasn’t thought about” what his Roll Call salute will be like but said it will probably be “something simple, because I’m not much of a show guy.”

One who won’t get a day off, even against a lefty, is designated hitter Travis Hafner. “Pronk” will be playing in his sixth straight game, but he has gone 5-for-16 with a home run, 7 RBI and three walks in that span and Girardi said that he’s not worried about overexposing Hafner just yet.

“It depends on how many days in a row he’s went, in a sense. This will be his fifth day in a row I think, and I’m okay with that as a DH,” Girardi said. “We’re in a stretch of 16 days in a row, and had he played every one I think it would bother me, but five doesn’t. We (don’t have a number in mind), we just kind of watch him and see how he’s doing.”

Other news and notes from the clubhouse prior to the game:

-Girardi was asked about a litany of injured Yankees during his pre-game press conference, but he voluntarily gave some news about Curtis Granderson: the center fielder took “a few” at-bats in an Extended Spring Training game that was eventually shortened by rain. Girardi said he was unsure how it went or how Granderson performed, only saying that “no news is good news” and that the number of Granderson’s at-bats wasn’t as important as knowing when he feels he’s ready.

-As for the others, Mark Teixeira has not yet begun swinging off a tee, but Girardi said “he definitely feels better, and hopefully that’s close,” Michael Pineda is still throwing to hitters and continuing “the slow process of building up….but so far so good,” and Alex Rodriguez is continuing non-baseball activities while getting stronger. -Girardi also said when asked that he believes Ronnier Mustelier, who has been out of action since suffering a bone bruise in his knee at the end of spring, will make his season debut at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday.

“I don’t know (what position) he’s playing,” Girardi said, “but I heard he’s playing tomorrow, so he must be en route today.”

-Girardi said that although the Yankees don’t have any plans to use him in that role, Vidal Nuno would be the most likely to make a spot start if necessary: “Right now we don’t have any plans, but as you’ve seen those plans are subject to change. We know he’s built up, and much more built up than Adam Warren is because Warren has been here and hasn’t had the consistent work every fifth day and up to 100 pitches, so if needed that’s something (Nuno) could do for us.” -Girardi hasn’t kept close tabs on Chien-Ming Wang, who chose to stay with the Yankees as his first opt-out date in his Minor League deal hit, but he has kept some eye on Wang: “I’m not getting detailed reports, but from what I heard his first start, he was hitting 87 or 88 (MPH), and the numbers looked good on this last start…I’m slowly investigating how he’s doing.”

-Corban Joseph’s wife, parents, sister and brother-in-law are in attendance tonight at Yankee Stadium, and all said they were thrilled to see Corban in the Major Leagues. Joseph had posted a .273-4-9 line in Scranton before his call-up, getting reps at first, second, and third base, and Austin Romine said his former RailRiders teammate “definitely deserved” to get the call to the Majors.

“He was having a great year, and hands down, he was playing his best defense ever,” Romine said. “He knows what to expect and what he can do; he plays good defense, he can swing the bat, and he knows the mental aspects. He’s a gritty guy who works hard…he’s a Yankee guy.”

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