Phelps proves worthy of Mattingly's trust

Marlins reliever delivers four scoreless innings of relief

Phelps proves worthy of Mattingly's trust

WASHINGTON -- Under no circumstances was Marlins right-hander David Phelps ready to surrender the baseball in the fifth inning Thursday, with two on and one out in a crucial part of a rain-soaked home opener for the Nationals.

So when Miami manager Don Mattingly walked to the mound in the middle of the inning, Phelps literally hid the ball behind his back. If a pitching change was going to be made, it would come after Phelps at least could plead his case. He successfully did, and the decision paid off in the Marlins' 6-4 win at Nationals Park.

"I had the ball behind my back," Phelps said. "I didn't want to give it to him. It was nice, he gives you a chance."

There were so many big moments in Mattingly's first win as Marlins' manager. The manager/pitcher meeting on the mound was one of them.

In most cases pitching coach Juan Nieves would visit the mound to deliver a message or make a delivery suggestion. But with Miami up, 5-3, and Phelps already having allowed, in succession, a single to Anthony Rendon followed by a walk to Bryce Harper, the two-run lead easily could have slipped away with Ryan Zimmerman at the plate.

Mattingly, still getting to know his players, wanted to personally check on how his right-hander was in an uncomfortable situation.

"He's out there gauging us," Phelps said. "He can see it in our eyes, and he can see it in how we answer. I wanted those outs right there, I wanted a chance."

Phelps had already given the team a huge lift, taking over in the second when starter Adam Conley was replaced because of a one-hour, 25-minute rain delay.

"Phelps to come in like that, he was outstanding," Conley said. "You couldn't ask for anything more from the guy, under the conditions and everything, the delay, the weather, travel day, all that stuff. He was awesome."

The Marlins were looking for roughly 60 pitches from Phelps, and he was closing in on that number, and Zimmerman posed a threat.

"With Phelpsy, we knew we were at the end of his rope," Mattingly said. "It was still a right-handed situation, but if he was out of gas, he was out of gas. But he had a really good look in his eye. I asked, 'Can you get this guy?' He was like, 'I got him. I'm good.' He was still strong and feeling good. He gave me a really good answer. I could see with his eyes that he was good."

The next pitch, Zimmerman lifted a routine fly ball to right, and the inning ended when Jayson Werth grounded to second.

Phelps' day was done at 59 pitches.

"He ends up getting two guys," Mattingly said. "That was huge, we didn't have to switch right there."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.