When the Yankees open up their Grapefruit League schedule on Saturday, they’ll be giving the ball to David Phelps, who will need to out-pitch Ivan Nova in camp in order to earn a spot in the rotation come Opening Day.

Even if Phelps doesn’t earn a spot to start the season, we’re probably going to see a lot of him this year. Phil Hughes is already having health issues, Nova is somewhat of a wild card, Hiroki Kuroda’s 38 year old right arm is coming off a career-high 219.2 IP, and Andy Pettitte is old enough to collect Social Security. There’s a lot of uncertainty with this rotation, so the sixth starter will be very important.

Last year, Phelps played a role that had previously be filled by Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small in 2005 as well as Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova in 2011: unheralded Yankee starter who comes up big after injuries and/or ineffectiveness of other starters create problems for the team.

Phelps threw 99.2 innings last year in 33 games, 11 of them starts, and impressed with a 3.34 ERA. The question now is whether or not he can do it again.

First, the bad news: Phelps posted a 4.32 FIP, nearly a full point higher than his ERA. That indicates that he benefited from some good luck, notably a .258 BABIP. He will regress to the mean on that and end up a little closer to .300. That will almost certainly bring that ERA up this season.

However, there is some good news: Phelps had good peripherals in 2012, and he’s likely to keep those going. His 2.53 K/BB is very good, and given his 3.70 career K/BB in the minor leagues, it’s not much of a fluke.

Phelps has had success keeping his walk rate down in his professional career, posting a career 2.0 BB/9 in 515.1 minor league innings. In 2012 with the Yankees, he walked 3.4 batters per 9, and that’s still a respectable number. You’d expect his MLB rate to be slightly worse than his MiLB rate, but if anything, that 3.4 might be just a tad high. It would not be surprising to see a small improvement in 2013.

When it comes to strike outs, he went the other way: His 8.7 K/9 rate in 2012 was a tad higher than his career 7.6 K/9 in the minors. While that should come down, if he is able to keep it at or above above 7, as some projection systems think he will, and couple it with a slightly improved walk rate, his K/BB will remain in the mid to high 2.00s, which is solid.

Keeping a consistent overall K/BB rate will be the key to neutralizing the bump in BABIP that is almost surely coming. If his strike outs and walks are under control, he’ll post a FIP in the low 4.00s, and he might even get into the high 3.90s. Even with the BABIP normalization that brings his ERA in line with his FIP, that’s still a number that the Yankees would be very happy to have.