For all the discussion about which starter might leave the rotation, David Phelps does not appear to be a candidate for replacement.
Phelps pitched seven effective innings and the Yankees completed a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays Thursday night. The Yankees extended their home winning streak in the series to 16 games with a 6-4 victory.
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Phelps threw a season-high 115 pitches while equaling his longest start of the season. He has allowed two runs and eight hits over his last 13 2/3 innings following a four-game losing streak that saw Phelps give up 20 runs and 30 hits in 24 2/3 innings.
“He was throwing the ball extremely well,” catcher Brian McCann said. “The backdoor cutter was a big pitch for him tonight. The curveball was as sharp as I’ve seen it. He grinded.”
Phelps followed the paths set by Masahiro Tanaka and Chase Whitley, who shut down the Blue Jays in different ways. Phelps shut them down when there were men on base as Toronto was 1-for-8 in seven innings.
Phelps had a runner on in five innings and twice was helped by Toronto base path blunders. He picked Cabrera off second while Edwin Encarnacion was batting in the first inning.
“That’s the biggest play of the game right there,” Phelps said.“To do that with one of the best hitters at the plate, first and second one out, it was a 3-2 count at that point [and] it was huge. I had a start against them last year where the first inning, same situation, I got somebody. It really changed the entire game. I give up a base hit there and it’s a completely different ballgame but I was able to get the guy out at second, make a pitch and I was out of the inning.”
“That’s probably the biggest play of the game when you look back,” Girardi said.
He then got a pop-up by Dioner Navarro in the fourth that turned into a runners interference call on Encarnacion when he stepped into Mark Teixeira. According to the umpires, the contact was unintentional but it hardly mattered since the next two hitters struck out.
When the Blue Jays weren’t running themselves out of innings, Phelps was limiting their offense in tough situations. He rebounded from allowing a two-run home run to Cabrera in the third to get Jose Bautista to fly out to the center field warning track.
Two innings later and with a 3-2 lead, he had Colby Rasmus on third with one out. Phelps retired Jose Reyes on a harmless groundout to first and retired Cabrera on a comebacker to the mound on a full count after initially stumbling to field it.
In the sixth after getting a 4-2 lead, he stranded two by getting Adam Lind on a groundout into the infield shift and then watched as the bullpen closed it out. Shawn Kelley allowed a two-run home run to Encarnacion but Matt Thornton got two outs and Adam Warren retired Jose Reyes for his second save ending a game that took three hours and 47 minutes to complete.
The combination of Phelps succeeding with the longer leash, four runs created by outs (three sacrifice flies and a groundout) and four stolen bases helped the Yankees win for the seventh time in nine games. They moved to within 1 1/2 games of first place in the tight AL East. Nobody’s quite focusing on the standings yet but it beats the alternative.
“It's huge,” Phelps said. “Sweeping any series is big for us at any point in the season but especially them coming [here] and being the team we're chasing."
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.