"Our first home game is three weeks away and we still have a foot and a half of snow on the ground," sophomore pitcher David Phelps said. "We can't really complain because we've been to Texas, Myrtle Beach and soon to Florida. That helps get our minds off of it."
The weather down south has been almost as hot as Phelps on the mound. The sophomore right-hander has been brilliant in two starts this year. He's 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 11 innings of work. In his first outing, Phelps earned a no-decision in a 2-1 loss to Texas State. He pitched five innings and allowed a solo home run, the only run he has surrendered on the season. Last weekend in a 4-1 win over No. 12 Texas Christian University, Phelps pitched six shutout innings while allowing five hits and striking out five.
"The big thing last weekend going into the TCU game was that they were ranked 12th in the nation," Phelps said. "I know I can pitch. I ended up doing real well. Last year, I got off to a slow start and the whole year was kind of slow. This year has been much better. Knowing I can pitch against those guys gives me the confidence to know I can pitch against anyone."
Phelps has a new pitching coach this season. Sherard Clinkscales was the choice of new head coach Dave Schrage to guide the pitching staff. Clinkscales pitched at Purdue and was selected as the 31st overall pick in the 1992 Major League Baseball Draft. After a brief career, he became a scout for several professional teams. After Schrage got the job, Clinkscales got in contact with him about the pitching coach position and was soon offered the job. He's helped Phelps with several parts of his pitching routine.
"Confidence has definitely been the key," Phelps said. "Coach Clinks preaches that you have to stay confident through the good times and bad times. You have to keep your head up. We've got a real good relationship. This is his first year as a coach. We kind of help each other out. There are things he might not know and he knows things we don't. We talk a lot and it's a real good relationship."
The other part that Clinkscales has helped Phelps with is his mechanics. Phelps struggled as a freshman, notching a 7.09 ERA in 26 innings of work. He did have a 2-0 record but was inconsistent at best, allowing opponents a .280 average against him at the plate. It was a big adjustment coming from high school in Hazelwood, Missouri to college baseball.
"You realize everyone at this level can hit a fastball," Phelps said. "In St. Louis, I could get away with just throwing my fastball. When you get here, you have to have a change-up. I couldn't throw a change-up for a strike last year. In summer ball, I really worked on it and it's been good."
Also after being told last fall about his delivery to the plate, Phelps and Clinkscales worked hard in the off-season to work out the defects in his throwing motion.
"Me and Coach Clinks watched my bullpen session," Phelps said. "We saw that when I lifted my leg, I leaned back a bit and that was causing my arm to drag and I couldn't get through the pitch. Now, he's got me leaning forward which helps me stay closed and get through. It's been the biggest thing for me."
Another big thing has been the family guidance for Phelps. The Irish pitcher has a big brother, Mike, who has achieved success. After a stellar career in college, Mike got drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 2005 MLB Draft. Both the Phelps brothers were St. Louis Cardinals' fans growing up. David said he would only root for the Cubs over the Cardinals if his brother made it to the professional level and pitched against his favorite team. The bond between David and Mike is a strong one.
"He's definitely my best fiend that I've got," David said. "I remember being young, I was more of a soccer and a basketball player. My dad would always drag me out to his games. As I got older, I fell in love with the game by watching him. It gave me a renowned love for the game."
Anyone who is a younger sibling knows there is pressure to live up to if the older relative achieves success. David was no different but learned to deal with it and earned a scholarship to play at Notre Dame.
"My dad has always been good about putting pressure on me about that," Phelps said. "In high school, all I heard was that my brother was so good and that I had to live up to him. It was a chip on my shoulder. But he's been real good about it and supportive. Over winter break, we go to St. Louis and work out together. If he sees anything wrong with me, he'll tell me. He also teaches lessons in the off-season."
This weekend, Notre Dame travels to Deland, Florida to participate in the Stetson Invitational. Phelps will look to continue his hot hand on Sunday in the three-game finale against Iowa. The first two weekends, he was middle pitcher in the trio of contests. He hopes that the Irish can come back to snowy South Bend 2-1 this time instead of 1-2, like the previous three-game sets.
"I have an extra day of rest this week," Phelps said. "I can pitch a little longer in my bullpen session. It's not a big deal. It's what they want. I just want to pitch. I'm confident that any time I go out there, I'll have my best stuff. We all the ability to go out there and get it done."