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Yankees Postgame Notebook: One down, 67 to go

The Yankees believe Friday's win is just the start of a big second half run
07/19/2014 12:17 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

The Yankees celebrate Friday night's 4-3 win over the Reds.(AP)
Prior to Friday's game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that one of the things the team needed to succeed in the second half was "significant distance" from their starters.

One down, 67 to go.

David Phelps gave the skipper just what he was looking for, allowing just three runs (two earned) on six hits, while striking out seven over 6 1/3 strong innings, and both a rested bullpen and a much-maligned offense came through when needed en route to a second-half opening 4-3 win over the Reds.

"He gave us distance and did a heck of a job there," Girardi said of Phelps, "and he just kept throwing pitches and kept getting ground balls. He's been really consistent the last six or seven weeks for us, and he's been sharp."

"My command was good, especially my fastball," Phelps added. "I didn't think I had my best off-speed stuff, but I got in some good counts and was able to use my fastball. I wasn't feeling it in the bullpen, but I put it together in the game."

Phelps was worried that he wouldn't be sharp because of a week-long layoff - and even said he had to credit his brother-in-law for playing catch over the All-Star break - but on a night where his biggest enemy was Reds first baseman Brayan Pena (two solo homers) and his second-biggest was the infield defense (two errors in the fourth leading to an unearned run), Phelps helped himself with seven strikeouts and got five of them looking.

"I was getting some close pitches called strikes late in the count; I've been trying all year to throw pitches that look like balls but are strikes," Phelps said. "And a lot of it was Brian (McCann), he was calling a game to keep them off balance."

"He had his two-seamer and four-seamer working to both sides of the plate, and his changeup slowed the righties down, so it made everything more effective," catcher Brian McCann added of the performance. "For me, pitching is about location, executing and setting guys up, and he's been doing that as well as anybody. He's been great."

And, in that fourth inning where the defense failed, Girardi noted that Phelps never quit and kept battling, eventually getting out with just the one run allowed.

"Where he could have buckled, he did a heck of a job," Girardi said, with Phelps adding that "I have all the faith in the world in my defense, and I know if I get guys to put the ball in play, they'll get the job done."

Offensively, the Yankees got positive progress in two of their biggest areas of need; struggling Carlos Beltran was 2-for-4 with an RBI, and both he and McCann's RBI knocks came with runners in scoring position and two outs.

"I thought we swung the bats pretty well off a guy we don't have a lot of history off of, and Mac and Carlos got some real timely hits," Girardi said. "It was real nice. We know that they're accomplished hitters who will contribute, but it was nice to see Carlos do it tonight; he was swinging the bat pretty well before the freak injury, so to see him get a couple hits and get him going again is big."

"It's the first game back after the break, so most important was that we won," Beltran added, "but I feel good. I think after I got hit in the face, the next day I felt good but the team was concerned and put me on the disabled list to make sure. … But right now, we're all healthy and we're having good at-bats, and if we do that we're going to score runs."

McCann's hit kept him on a torrid streak that began on the first-half ending road trip, and both he and the skipper acknowledged that it was nice to come back from the break with that intact.

"I think he feels pretty good about where he's at, but it is nice to start your second half off with a hit," Girardi said of McCann. "You're seeing better swings out of him and that's good for us.

"It was nice," McCann added. "I've been feeling pretty good at the plate for the past 10 or 12 games, so hopefully I can keep that up and drive in some runs."

Jacoby Ellsbury's two-run homer in the fifth - which McCann called a "huge knock for us" - gave the Yankees back a lead, and after that, Phelps buckled down into the seventh and the well-rested bullpen took it from there. Dellin Betances came in with one on and one out in the seventh and pitched a perfect 1 2/3 innings with three strikeouts, and David Robertson pitched around a two-out single in the ninth to notch his 24th save.

Betances, who said he had an "awesome" experience at the All-Star Game even though he didn't pitch, had the same worry about his stuff as Phelps, but it all seemed to work out.

"I had a week off so I felt good, but I didn't know how good my command was going to be; luckily I was able to go out there early and make sure everything was good with my mechanics," he said. "I was feeling good before the break and I was throwing my off-speed well, but a week off always helps, and I felt like I had a little more power today."

In the end, it was a victory that the whole team contributed to. It was especially fun for Phelps, who had four no-decisions since his last win on June 19, but he still knows this is just one game of 68 the Yankees need to buckle down for.

"It feels like it has been forever since we've won a game when I pitched, and it's a good feeling to win, but it's important for us to pick it up in general; we have some ground to make up and a lot of good baseball left to play."

A few more quotes from a jubilant Yankees clubhouse:

-Phelps was getting a lot of props throughout the clubhouse, but perhaps Beltran's words spoke loudest: "He pitched great, and he's been doing that a lot this year. Every time he takes the mound we feel confident he's going to give us a chance to win the game."

-The righty gave that dap right back to his offense, talking about them for a while before singling out McCann and Beltran: "A lot of people talk about how we're not hitting homers or scoring at home, but it's not for a lack of effort. Our bats are going to heat up, and you see guys putting together better and better at-bats. … (McCann and Beltran) have had big hits for us all year; obviously they're not going to be happy with their numbers, but they've come up big in some big spots."

-Phelps on feeling the need to "step up" in the wake of all the rotation flux: "Regardless of the shape our rotation is in, I pride myself in being consistent. That's one thing I've always strived for; when our rotation takes hits, I kind of put it on myself to step up. I've been here longer than some of the other guys throwing for us, and the better I can do the better it is for all of us."

-Girardi on evaluating Ellsbury through 95 games: "I thought he had a pretty good first half and he's been really consistent for us. I was really pleased with his first half, and he doesn't need to do a whole lot more; he just has to be himself and that will be a good second half."

-Last word goes to The Captain, Derek Jeter, saying exactly what you'd expect about the result: "We need to go out and do our jobs every day, and we can't sit back and relax, so to get those big hits is huge. It's important to start the second half off with a win; we didn't play our best game, but we got the win and that's what's important." 

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