While him exiting the game after 2 wildly ineffective innings was the best thing for the Yankees last night, learning that David Phelps has been having elbow problems for the last few weeks was a big blow. For a team that’s battled injuries in its rotation since early April and only recently re-established a sense of stability in that group, this was the last thing they needed to happen. Phelps has pitched well for the better part of the last 2 months and now he’ll be out for a yet to be determined amount of time. Once again, the Yanks will be sent into scramble mode to fill a vacated rotation spot.
The good news, if you want to call it that, is that there’s no damage to any of the ligaments in his elbow. We found out late last night that Phelps has been feeling and pitching through discomfort in his right elbow for the last few weeks. He got an MRI on July 18th that showed no damage to the ligament and was told by team doctors that he could continue pitching without worry. If the problem was anything serious, I can’t imagine the team would have let him keep pitching. There is the chance that this will be something he can recover from quickly and not miss too many starts.
In the meantime, where do the Yankees turn next for their 12th different starter of the season? The early betting favorite this morning is Esmil Rogers, who looked very good in his Yankee debut last night. He pitched 3 scoreless innings in relief of Phelps and Chase Whitley, mowing down the heart of the Boston lineup in order in the 7th inning, and he was working as a starter in the Toronto system as recently as July 18th. His results in his last 6 Triple-A starts are nothing special (12 ER, 15 BB, 22 K in 32.2 IP), but he has been stretched out to a full starter’s pitch count recently, something that can’t be said for Whitley.
If not Rogers, then maybe Bryan Mitchell gets the call. He’s on the 40-man, he’s been called up twice already this season and not used either time, and he pitched on Friday so he’s not too far off schedule with Phelps. I’m sure he’d love to get a chance to actually throw a pitch as a Yankee, and the team has to have some real interest in seeing what he can do after they reportedly turned down Seattle’s request for him in a trade proposal for Dustin Ackley. Mitchell has actually been pretty good in his last 3 starts for SWB, allowing 2 ER in 17.0 IP with a 15/3 K/BB split.
Should Phelps be out for more than a turn or 2 through the rotation, his spot could be filled by the rehabbing Michael Pineda. Reports were positive on his MiL rehab start for SWB yesterday, although at 58 pitches he’s not quite ready to return to regular rotation duty. There was talk of him only needing 1 more rehab start before being activated, however, so perhaps this Phelps injury factors into that remaining schedule and accelerates his return.
Whatever happens, the Yankees have to be hoping that the backup plan is a short-term one and they won’t be without Phelps for very long. He’s become one of the most important pitchers in the rotation, a rotation that has already stretched its depth about as thin as it can go. For once, it would be nice to have an injury to a starter not be a long-term problem.