Before Monday’s game with the Red Sox, manager Joe Girardi came to a decision that David Phelps had been more productive than Ivan Nova in recent weeks. With nothing guaranteed in the postseason other than a one-game wild-card playoff game, Girardi decided to start Phelps Tuesday night instead of Nova.
Nova has made three starts since returning from a shoulder injury that cost him nearly a month. He pitched well in his return against Tampa Bay on Sept. 15, allowing two runs and four hits in six innings while striking out eight.
“That’s the game,” Nova said. “He’s the manager and he’s doing the best for the team.”
It has been the subsequent starts that have been a major problem and led to Girardi’s decision. On Sept. 22 against Oakland, Nova allowed three runs and five hits in 2 1/3 innings and five days later in Toronto he allowed four runs and six hits in 4 2/3 innings.
“Of course, [I’m disappointed],” Nova said. “The way I was pitching, they expected more from me.”
“I’m sure he’s disappointed, but that’s OK,” Girardi said. “But this is a game where you have to be productive on a consistent basis. This kid has done a lot of good things for us. Let’s not forget, he won 16 games for us last season, 12 games this year and we still have him in our plans, but right now he’s just struggling a little bit.”
Phelps is not.
Since allowing eight earned runs and nine hits over 8 2/3 innings in two starts against the Orioles early in September, he has allowed four earned runs over his last 15 2/3 innings. That includes a start against Toronto on Sept. 19 when Phelps allowed one run and three hits in 6 2/3 innings.
“Just whatever role we’ve put him in, he’s done a good job for us,” Girardi said. “He’s been a guy that has thrown strikes. The quality of his strikes [have been good]. He has located his fastball and mixed his other pitches in. So he’s done a really job for us.”
Phelps will be making 11th career start and third against the Red Sox. He gave up three runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings during a 4-1 loss here last month and then on Sept. 12 at Fenway Park, he allowed one run and five hits in 5 2/3 innings.
“I’m excited,” Phelps said. “I want to go out there and pitch. I want to pitch in big games. It doesn’t get a whole lot bigger down the stretch than this.”
When George Steinbrenner spoke in the 1980s, there was a sort of bluster in his tone. Now with his son Hal in charge, there is calmness.
Steinbrenner spoke outside the Yankee clubhouse hours before first pitch on Monday.
“The bottom line is, with three games left, we’re in first place — tied for first place,’’ Steinbrenner said. “And we’re going to have to get the job done.’’
Steinbrenner did admit to some concern after the 10-game lead vanished, but reiterated his confidence in the team general manager Brian Cashman assembled.
“I had no doubt they were going to persevere as best they could. It just seemed like we’d get a big guy back and then another guy goes out. It’s frustrating after a while, but we’ve got everybody back now. We’re at full strength and we’ll keep pressing on.’’
In terms of jobs being on the line based on the results, Steinbrenner said it is not even a thought at the present time.
“Not that I know of,” Steinbrenner said. “Jobs are not riding on this. But that’s not something I’m concerned about right now. We look at everything in the offseason as we always do.’’
Teixeira returns, plays first base
Even if the Yankees had everything secured for the postseason, Mark Teixeira was going to return once his calf felt better.
Monday was the night for Teixeira, who last played Sept. 8 in Baltimore and has appeared just once since suffering the injury Aug. 28 against the Blue Jays.
“I would have wanted to come back and get my timing back anyway for the playoffs,” Teixeira said. “Even if we had a big lead right now, I’d want to get my timing back. It’s important for me to come back.”
To prepare himself for his return, Teixeira spent time in Tampa, Fla. appearing in instructional league games. He played in two intrasquad games, a simulated game, pushed himself more on the bases and also tested himself on hard turns at first base.
“It’s nice to have him back in there for us. He’s been an extremely productive hitter for us. I expect him to give good at-bats. I can’t tell you what the results are going to be but I expect him to give good at-bats. The one thing I told him is, ‘You haven’t played in a while, so if you start to feel that fatigue or anything you need to let us know because we can’t have this go the other way again.’”
Teixeira conceded that tightness will always linger until he can really rest it during the offseason, but that’s something he’s not worried about now.
“There’s always going to be tightness until I sit down for a month after the offseason,” Teixeira said. “We really can’t go by that. It’s going to be a little tight; it’s a matter of it is good enough [for me to play].”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.