DENVER -- David Phelps proved it's never too late to make a first impression Friday night against the Rockies. After 50 appearances out of the bullpen this season, the Marlins right-hander climbed the hill for his first start of the season and was about as good as it gets in any park, let alone Coors Field.
Phelps blanked the Rockies for 4 1/3 innings and scattered four hits and a walk while striking out four. He made a season-high 70 pitches and did not factor in the decision after the Marlins made a dramatic ninth-inning comeback to win the series opener, 5-3.
"It was as good as I could ask for," Phelps said. "The biggest thing was we won. I knew I wasn't going to be in there that long. I wanted to go out and get as many innings as I could."
The only thing holding Phelps back was his carefully monitored pitch count. The plan was for him to throw 70-75 pitches, which he did after facing one batter in the fifth.
Phelps -- who made 59 career starts prior to this year -- seemed to get better the longer he was in the game, getting more efficient as the innings went on.
"I started mixing in some change and curveballs the second time through the lineup," Phelps said. "I got them off my fastball, which was the biggest thing. The first time through was a lot of fastballs and cutters. I was working myself into counts where I wasn't putting guys away. I was ahead of guys pretty much all day, but when I started mixing in the changeup and curveball, I started getting quicker outs."
Spending four months in the 'pen helped Phelps establish his approach. His focus was sharper, honing in on the matchup at hand and putting the bigger picture further back in his mind.
"I'm trying to take it the same as it's been all year and just focus on one hitter at a time," Phelps said. "One thing I was doing well early in the year was separating, taking each hitter as its own separate competition. Not really worrying about where the runners were, whatever, just focusing on executing pitches and trying to carry that over."
The longer outing forced him to move away from his 97-mph fastball and mix up his approach to great effect.
"It's nice knowing that it's there when I need it," he said of his ability to light up the radar gun. "I'm not throwing with the max effort that I was out of the bullpen. I have to save a little bit. I don't really see a reason to change the way I pitch right now. I've had success out of the bullpen all year doing that. It worked well today."