Nardi Contreras, the Yankees Minor League Pitching Coordinator, sits down with PinstripesPlus.com…
Phelps Commanding Inside
A run like that allowed him to run off a six-game winning streak over his last nine starts.
His versatility has shown in the way he has been winning games. He has been winning games when he has had good stuff and even when he hasn't. His two-seam fastball has been his best pitch this year, but he has been able to fall back on his slider and changeup when it hasn't been there.
Being more of a finesse pitcher, Phelps has also been able to reach back for a little extra juice on his four-seam fastball to overpower hitters when no other pitches have worked.
Despite both of those, to Phelps the thing that has most helped him to be successful this season has been luck. Luck in that his offense has been able to come through for him, which he says makes everything a whole lot easier.
"I think the biggest thing is that in a lot of my games the offense will go out and score early," he said. "That makes my job a lot easier because if I go up there and put up a zero it just gets things rolling for us."
Pitching with a lead has bred confidence on the mound for him and in turn that leads him to being a more comfortable and consistent pitcher. He has been able to execute his pitches on the mound because pitching with leads has allowed him to be a little bold on the mound and so far that has worked out.
"In college you kind of stay away from hitters because if they get their hands going it's going out of the park," Phelps said. "Now it's different where I've been pounding people inside trying to break some bats or get some called third strikes."
Gaining an advantage of the inside of the plate is what he credits as being the biggest difference maker for him this season.
His numbers with Notre Dame weren't pretty this year, a 5-5 record with a 4.65 ERA. In Staten Island, however, he has been able to change that around to the tune of an 8-2 record and a 2.72 ERA.
"As a starter if you show you can command the inside part of the plate it opens up the outer-half in the later part of the game. It makes my job easier when I can do that."
Besides just pitching on the inside of the plate more, Phelps has made other adjustments his style on the mound, most specifically in how he attacks the hitters. To Phelps they aren't as scary without a metal bat in their hands.
"I think my perspective of what I'm trying to do out there has changed," he explained. "Pitching to metal bats made me try to be a little too perfect and now I've just been trying to throw sinkers over the plate early in the count.
"I'm just trying to force the action instead of working around guys to try to get them out."
His strategy for dealing with hitters hasn't been the only change, early on in this season Phelps said the biggest thing he had to overcome was inconsistency. It was a constant battle for him as he would be on top of his game one day and struggling with his command the next.
"In college my biggest thing was two good starts would always come before two bad starts," Phelps said. "I was really inconsistent and now it's easier for me where if I do throw a bad pitch, I can figure out what I've done wrong because I have we have fine-tuned my delivery."
Working with Yankee coaches, and Staten Island pitching coach Pat Daneker in particularl, Phelps has gotten his mechanics to a point where he is becoming satisfied with the way he is throwing.
"We've been working with his delivery a little bit," Daneker explained. "We've gotten him to drop his hands so he's not all over the place. He's been working real hard, working on his direction to home plate.
"We've also been working on staying behind the ball a little better. He's been working really hard out there on his sides and his dry sides. All the work he's been doing out there is really paying off for him."
His season has been going well. Actually it was hard to get a response from him that wasn't about something positive. One thing he mentioned was that he is used to going deeper into games than he has been.
"Six innings is our max allotment," Staten Island manager Pat McMahon explained. "His pitch count was down in his last start, but it's also number of innings pitched besides the pitch count."
The Yankees as a rule for first-year pitchers have a pitch count of 85 pitches or six innings, whichever happens first. A couple of times Phelps reached six innings before 85 pitches and says he would have liked to have stayed in games, but that he understands why the team is being cautious.
"It's their first season for a lot of these guys," Daneker said explaining the reason for the rule. "It's rookie ball and a lot of these guys were in college.
"They get here and they've already had some innings. This is the first season they've had to learn and next season will be more."
When asked if he thought Phelps could be going deeper into games Daneker replied, "Oh yeah for sure. In his last start he threw 63 pitches or whatever it was. Last game if he was at 100 pitches he could easily have gone nine innings."
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