September 23, 2014

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Tribe’s Cord Phelps finds lessons in 0-for-4 MLB debut

CLEVELAND — An 0-for-4 performance may look bad on paper, but second baseman Cord Phelps learned something from each at-bat during his major league debut Wednesday afternoon and put on a defensive clinic during the Indians’ 3-2 extra-inning loss to the Minnesota Twins.

Second baseman Cord Phelps takes the throw Wednesday at Progressive Field as he gets ready to turn a double play in his major league debut. (AP photo.)

Second baseman Cord Phelps takes the throw Wednesday at Progressive Field as he gets ready to turn a double play in his major league debut. (AP photo.)

Facing veteran Carl Pavano in his first major league at-bat in the second inning, Phelps swung at the first pitch and sent a grounder to Twins second baseman Matt Tolbert for an easy out. In his second at-bat, he struck out on four pitches — all were 82 mph — after swinging early at three of them.

“I try to be aggressive, but I think Pavano took advantage of that,” Phelps said. “He threw me those change-ups in the second at-bat — like four change-ups in a row — and I just didn’t adjust to it. But he’s been around for a long time and he knows what to do.”

Phelps hasn’t been around for any time, but he began to figure it out as the game wore on. In his third at-bat in the seventh inning, he watched the first two pitches — a ball and a strike — and fouled off another fastball before again grounding out to the second baseman.

His final at-bat came in the ninth with one out and nobody on base. He took a fastball strike, fouled off three consecutive fastballs — ranging between 93-95 mph — watched two balls to even the count and then made good contact on a 94 mph fastball that Twins left fielder Jason Repko tracked down.

“I felt like I had a couple good at-bats, the second one not so much,” said Phelps, who got into Cleveland at 2 a.m. Wednesday after driving up from Columbus. “As I went on I felt a little more comfortable and was able to see the ball a little better. I guess I wasn’t as anxious and ready to swing.”

Phelps said the biggest downer of his debut was that he left a pair of runners in scoring position during his first two at-bats. Shin Soo-Choo was stranded at third base in the second, and Carlos Santana was left on second in the fourth.

“It’s the first day … not very much judging going on,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “Obviously he was excited. He played good defense and hit a couple of balls hard and had a very good at-bat on the last one.
“But it’s just one game.”

Phelps’ defensive play was solid, and needed. Acta said that the rookie will probably platoon at second base with veteran Orlando Cabrera, who has made several recent miscues in the field despite winning multiple Gold Gloves in his career.

Phelps got involved early, providing the tag on Danny Valencia when the Twins third baseman tried to steal second base in the second inning. He also tracked down a high popup in shallow right field in the fourth, rushed the ball in the infield grass to beat Delmon Young in the fifth and made a diving snare of a line drive by Luke Hughes in the seventh that saved a run.

He was also part of the game’s lone double play — which ended the eighth — to finish with four putouts and three assists.

“It’s nice to be able to contribute any way you can,” Phelps said. “I was happy I was able to get to that ball (in the seventh) and keep the runner at second, for sure.”

Now it’s onto Yankee Stadium, where his family will join him. One of his sisters made it to Progressive Field to see his debut, but he expects his parents, his older brother and both sisters to see him in action against New York.

“Most of my family is on the West Coast, so they couldn’t make it today,” he said. “But I called them (when I got the call-up) and everyone was really excited for me.”

To make room for Phelps on the 25-man roster, the Indians optioned Shelley Duncan to Triple-A Columbus. To make room on the 40-man roster, the team transferred pitcher Alex White from the 15-day to the
60-day disabled list.

Phelps, who hails from Stanford, Calif., was selected in the third round (No. 107 overall) of the 2008 draft following his junior season at Stanford. He split time between the Double-A Akron Aeros and the Clippers last season, and batted a combined .308 to finish as the fourth-best hitter in the Tribe’s farm system.

This season at Columbus, he hit .299 (63-of-211) with 31 runs scored, 15 doubles, two triples and seven home runs in 55 games. He also had 40 RBIs, a .391 on-base percentage and a .488 slugging percentage.

The loss and being shut out at the plate did nothing to temper Phelps’ enthusiasm after playing in his first major league game.

“It was amazing … everything I thought it would be,” he said. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was little and it’s amazing that it actually happened. I don’t know if it’s set in yet.”

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.