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Phelps helps rotation cause with solid outing

If righty doesn't start, he could be solid addition to reconstructed bullpen

Phelps helps rotation cause with solid outing

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- David Phelps is not exactly spending his down time scouring the Internet for updates on the Yankees' fifth-starter battle. He is well aware of how strong Michael Pineda has looked in his return to action this spring.

Yet Phelps has also been stating a convincing case, making manager Joe Girardi's upcoming decision as difficult as he can. That effort continued on Thursday night, as Phelps held a stacked Red Sox lineup to two runs over six innings in the Yanks' 3-2 Grapefruit League win at JetBlue Park.

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"[Pineda's] throwing the ball really well right now, and as a staff, we're all throwing the ball really well right now," Phelps said. "I just want to be a part of it. I think we've got a really special group here, and I think we're capable of doing some special things this year."

Phelps' Grapefruit League ERA actually ticked up a tiny bit with the effort, rising from 2.63 to 2.75, but Girardi has seen nothing but positive signs from the right-hander, who has experience both in the rotation and the bullpen at the Major League level.

"Really good; six innings, and he faced a tough lineup tonight," Girardi said. "To be able to do what he did, I thought he did a really nice job."

With Pineda finally healthy and compiling a 0.00 ERA through nine spring innings, and the first four rotation spots locked in, Phelps faces an uphill battle to claim a starting job. His success as a reliever may actually work against him, since Girardi knows that Phelps would be comfortable in that role.

"He's in the mix as one of our starters, and until we determine who that fifth starter is, we're obviously aware that he's pitched out of the bullpen and has pitched well," Girardi said.

The Yankees have been saying that the fifth-starter decision, which could come on Sunday, will also determine some of their bullpen choices. Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno are all in the mix, and it is possible that New York could carry two of those hurlers -- one as a long man, and perhaps asking the other to get four to six outs on occasion.

"I'm starting to formulate what our rotation might be, but I don't want to jump to too quick of a decision without having long discussions with our people," Girardi said. "I'm sure you could go around and ask any one of our coaches or front office and they might have an opinion, but they're probably not going to share it at this point."

If Girardi and the Yankees' hierarchy are leaning toward squeezing their first big league pitches out of the January 2012 Pineda trade, as is widely assumed, then at least Phelps is offering a reminder that he is also capable of doing the job.

Phelps blanked the Red Sox through the first five innings on Thursday before running into trouble in the sixth, allowing the two runs on three hits. Dustin Pedroia's two-run single accounted for Boston's only runs of the night.

"I'm not going to let one at-bat dictate my outing there. The way that I threw the ball today, I was really happy with it," said Phelps, who walked two and struck out three. "I'm just going to take that momentum and carry it over into whatever my next outing is."

There is uncertainty in the Yankees' upcoming schedule. Phelps has not been told when he will next pitch, and with games running out, starts are being distributed to rotation locks like CC Sabathia (Friday) and Masahiro Tanaka (Saturday). Phelps' next outing may have to come in relief, or as a starter in a Minor League game.

That shouldn't interrupt the fine-tuning process. Phelps said that he changed his mechanics slightly this week, trying to get his hands moving down in his motion instead of pulling him off line from home plate. The tweak was suggested by pitching coach Larry Rothschild, and Phelps said that it resulted in his best fastball command of the spring.

"There were times I was just a little inconsistent. It was not a big change; something small," Phelps said. "Having my hands over my knee versus having them over my belt. It was something really small that Larry saw during my last start and he said, 'You know, let's try something.' And it really seemed to work."

Having that success at JetBlue Park, where he had to match his stuff against the likes of Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, can only help his cause.

"It was fun, man," Phelps said. "They put a lot of their regulars out there. I like that, because I can see how my stuff's playing against them. Those guys that have seen me before, I can see how my stuff is. That's as close to a real game as I've had this spring. It was a good atmosphere with the crowd. It was a good night."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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