Manship wants to play major role with Phillies

Posted: March 11, 2014

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Guys like Jeff Manship inhabit a strange world in spring training. One side of the clubhouse shows the normal order of things, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard and Chase Utley listening to music and watching television and eating breakfast together around a rectangular table. Another side bubbles with the immortality of youth, minor league teammates like Jesse Biddle and Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr talking among themselves as they soak it all in, well aware that the exit papers jettisoning them to minor league camp could be signed any day, that their most consequential big-league camps are yet to come.

And somewhere in between these two worlds - usually sitting in black office chairs, fiddling with smartphones, perhaps browsing the Internet, or touching base with home - are players like Jeff Manship. They are strangers in a strange land, no longer deemed worthy of a roster spot by the organizations that drafted and/or developed them, destined to wander from spring training to spring training in search of a need that develops at just the right time.

Every now and then, that need develops, and something clicks. For R.A. Dickey, it happened when he was a 35-year-old minor league free agent with a rebuilding Mets team. For Ryan Vogelsong, it happened with the Giants when he was 33 and 5 years removed from his last appearance in the majors.

For Manship, the Phillies would be thrilled if it happened this year.

"I like the competition, really," the righthander said yesterday after holding his former team to one run in three innings of the Phillies' 1-1 tie against the Twins. "I think it keeps you on top of your game. You don't sit back and say, 'I've already made it, I don't have to work hard.' Not that that really happens, but there's always that chance. I feel like here, knowing that there is something to play for, you're not going to take any shortcuts."

Manship is well aware that there is something to play for. He knows that Cole Hamels has yet to face hitters, and is unlikely to pitch in April as he continues to recover from a bout with biceps tendinitis. He knows that Ethan Martin has been shut down, and that Jonathan Pettibone is still in the early stages of working his way back from shoulder soreness. He knows that Chad Gaudin was released on the first day of camp. And if he doesn't know that Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez looks more like a project than a major league pitcher at this point, he is one of the very few.

All of this has resulted in a fortuitous case of addition (of opportunity) by subtraction (of competitors) for Manship, as well as fellow unproven righties Sean O'Sullivan and David Buchanan. When he first arrived at camp, he impressed the Phillies with his bullpen sessions, and he has built on that with a strong showing in his first handful of Grapefruit League outings. In seven innings, he has allowed one run, four hits and one walk while striking out six.

"This is a time for opportunity here," manager Ryne Sandberg said.

When Manship signed a minor league deal with the Phillies early in the offseason, he wasn't sure what to expect.

"Honestly, they were the first team that came calling," he said.

A 14th-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2006, Manship debuted with the Twins in 2009, when he made five starts and six relief appearances as a 24-year-old, posting a 5.68 ERA with 6.0 K.9, 4.3 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9. While he has seen big-league action in each of the last five seasons, he has tallied just 1 year and 75 days of service. In 2010, he was recalled from the minors five times only to be sent back down, appearing in a total of 13 big-league games. His only time on an Opening Day roster was in 2011, when he made five relief appearances for the Twins and then spent the rest of the season in the minors. Last year, he spent a couple of weeks in the Rockies' rotation in August, but in four starts allowed 16 runs on 22 hits and eight walks with 12 strikeouts in 21 innings. This included a start at Citizens Bank Park on Aug. 19, when he allowed five runs in five innings of a 5-4 loss to the Phils.

Thus far this spring, Manship has looked a lot more capable than his career numbers indicate. A resident of Austin, Texas, he spent the offseason working with University of Texas pitching coach Skip Johnson to iron out some mechanical flaws.

"I'm keeping my front arm up, and it's keeping me from flying open, which has been a problem I've had, shoot, for a long time," Manship said. "Once you fly open, everything sucks after that."

He also worked on controlling his thoughts and emotions through breathing, something he said helped him in his first appearance against the Twins since he left the organization after the 2012 season. In three innings against his former teammates, six of the nine balls in play that he allowed were on the ground, five of them for outs.

"He made pitches," Sandberg said. "He was down in the zone constantly. He only elevates when he wants to. He just mixes up his stuff. He threw strikes. When he does get behind, he knows how to pitch a little bit, take a little off, and have movement, and get good ground balls in fastball counts. To this point."

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