Phelps key in Bucs victory
DENVER — Josh Phelps has a part-time role with the Pirates, but he approaches it with a full-time attitude.
“I’m ready when I go out there,” Phelps said. “I’m not wasting any time. I’m going to take a rip at the first good thing I think I can handle and after that, let it fall where it may.
“If you’re ready to go, if you’re ready to compete, what’s there to worry about?”
Thursday, Phelps collected a career-best four hits and three RBI, pacing the Pirates to a 5-1 victory against the Colorado Rockies. The Bucs took 3 of 4 in the Mile High City.
It was Phelps’ eighth start since joining the Pirates in late June, and his first time batting in the cleanup spot. He stroked an RBI double in the first inning and a two-run double in the third.
Phelps started at first base in place of Adam LaRoche, who got the day off against tough rookie left-hander Franklin Morales (0-1).
“It’s days like this when the manager puts you in a position of responsibility,” Phelps said. “When you do something with it, it gives you more confidence to maybe get another chance.”
In his eight starts, Phelps has hit .484 with three homers and 11 RBI. He also had a pinch-homer Monday against the Rockies, and went 5 for 6 with three extra-base hits in the four-game series.
Phelps is making a strong case for more playing time, but it’s not a simple matter of plunking him into the lineup. LaRoche is batting .345 over his past 45 games, and is a power left bat.
Phelps would be used at catcher only in an emergency. But he could get some time in right field over the next few days, with Ryan Doumit on the disabled list and Xavier Nady’s hamstring acting up again.
“It is somewhat of a luxury when you have a guy like Phelps, who you can plug in on a given day and he gets four hits and drives in four runs,” manager Jim Tracy said. “You can’t say enough at the at-bats he took, especially the first two.”
Freddy Sanchez walked with two outs in the first inning. Phelps lined a double to the left field corner.
In the third, Jack Wilson and Sanchez had back-to-back hits with one out. Phelps crushed a fastball into the gap in left-center for a two-run double that made it 3-0. Phelps scored on Jose Bautista’s single.
Paul Maholm (10-14) won for the fifth time in his past seven decisions. The left-hander went seven innings, and allowed a run on six hits and two walks, and got five strikeouts.
“I threw everything for strikes,” Maholm said. “I was able to get ahead of them early and made them hit my pitch, extend the zone and really get into a lot of trouble.”
Maholm went 5-11 with a 4.76 ERA in the first half of the season, but is 6-4 with a 3.78 ERA since the All-Star break. Even during his early struggles, Maholm never doubted he would turn it around.
“I never overhauled my windup or did anything (extreme),” Maholm said. “And then all of the sudden I started throwing my breaking ball for strikes on a consistent basis. That made things easier.”