Manship Sails into Unfamiliar Waters

Sometimes, good puns write themselves and are much too difficult to resist. Good seasons for Major Leaguers can sometimes be harder to find, especially when talking about efforts by relievers.

It was no secret early in the 2015 season that the Cleveland Indians bullpen was not quite the crisp product that it had been the season before. Cody Allen had a rough April, posting the second-highest ERA on the pitching staff while walking the third-most batters on the club. Bryan Shaw avoided big run totals, but allowed small villages to occupy the bases. Zach McAllister landed in middle relief after a one game failed experiment in the rotation. Kyle Crockett walked one-third of the batters he faced before relocating to Columbus. Scott Atchison pitched his way out of the bullpen and off of the roster by the end of June. Anthony Swarzak ate innings and mopped up. The two primary lefty relievers, Marc Rzepczynski and Nick Hagadone, spent the first half of the season continually flirting with a plus-five ERA.

Help was needed and, surprisingly, the Indians found it less than two hours away.

Each offseason, minor moves that go almost entirely unnoticed by even the most die-hard of baseball fans are made. These deals, often minor league contracts with invites to spring training, will on occasion pay dividends. Swarzak was one example of that this past offseason. Atchison fit the same description prior to the 2014 season.

Unlike either of his two predecessors in the bullpen, Jeff Manship did not make the Indians out of spring camp. He opted to head to Columbus and hope that, if patient, his turn would come. Not only did the call come in June, he made a significant contribution and may have played his way into an extended role with the club heading forward.

It may be safe to say many are unfamiliar with the voyage that Manship has made around the league over the last dozen years.

He was drafted in the 50th (!) round of the 2003 June Amateur draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio, Texas. Manship opted not to sign and instead headed to the University of Notre Dame. In 2006, his name was called by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round and, this time, he elected to sign to play professional baseball.

Manship toiled in the Twins system for parts of four seasons before he was called up on August 15th, 2009, in a relief role against the Indians. He struck out one in an inning of work and would appear the next day, logging four outs of scoreless relief. When the calendar flipped to September, the Twins inserted him in the starting rotation, where he made five starts in his final six games, pitching into the sixth inning once. Despite his short outings, Minnesota was 4-1 in his starts and he finished the season with a 1-1 record and a 5.68 ERA.

The Twins got the most out of his minor league option in 2010. He started the year at Triple-A Rochester, working in the rotation, before getting called up to pitch against the Tribe on May 1st. He was sent back down to Triple-A, but would be recalled less than three weeks later, again for just one game (this effort, in relief). After the appearance, it was back again to Triple-A for almost a full month before he was again recalled, pitching in two relief outings before a return to the minors. He would get the treatment against in mid-July, pitching in one game out of the bullpen, again against Cleveland, before spending another two weeks in Rochester. He came back in mid-August and was granted a stay, spending the final six weeks of the season in the Minnesota bullpen.

His perseverance paid off, for the time being, as he made the opening day bullpen for Minnesota in 2011. After five outings, it was back to the minors; ineffectiveness and injury kept him from a return to Minneapolis before the season was done. The following season was much of the same – ineffective at the Major League level combined with extended stays on the farm. At season’s end, he was granted his free agency and two weeks later, he joined the Colorado Rockies organization.

His travel schedule was much more controlled in 2013, pitching in 24 games for Triple-A Colorado Springs while bouncing in and out of the rotation. He had a stretch of six straight losses at one point, but still got the call back to the Bigs in August. After taking losses in each of his first four starts with the club, he was moved into the bullpen, where he closed out his season and Rockies career as a reliever.

Manship was invited to spring training by the Philadelphia Phillies for the 2014 season and made the club’s opening day roster. He appeared in a career-high 20 games, all in relief, for the Phillies before he was designated for assignment in July. He remained with the club, moving to the Triple-A Lehigh Valley team, and concluded his season there, primarily as a starter.

When he joined the Indians, there were several other players in camp, including his former teammate in Minnesota, Swarzak, left-hander Scott Downs, and former MLB starters Bruce Chen, Tyler Cloyd, and Shaun Marcum, among others, vying for roster spots. After not making the roster, he became a Clipper and appeared in 23 games, logging a 1.99 ERA while saving a pair of games. He struck out 31 batters and walked nine in 31 2/3 innings, for a respectable 8.8 strikeout per nine rate to go with a 1.07 WHIP.

Manship had his contract purchased from Columbus by Cleveland on June 18th, taking the roster spot of Marcum, who was hanging around while Atchison was on the disabled list. He worked almost solely as a mop-up innings eater at first, as he pitched with the team behind in 16 of his first 18 appearances, while the other two opportunities came in tie games in extra innings. In 23 innings in those outings, he allowed just four runs on a .184 batting average against, struck out 16, and had a WHIP of 0.78 while earning a 1.57 ERA.

On August 26th, Francona called on him after a short outing by Cody Anderson in a 5-2 game in the fifth inning. With runners on first and second and two outs, Manship struck out Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy and retired the side in order the following inning and would earn the win in relief. In September, he earned three holds while doing solid bridgework in other outings to compensate for some shorter starts from the rotation.

At season’s end, he was 1-0 with three holds, had struck out 33 batters in 39 1/3 innings, and ended the campaign with a 0.92 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP while pitching in a career-high 32 games. He allowed just four hits in nine games in his final month of the season and limited lefties to a .235 batting average against him on the year. Even better, right-handed hitters struggled mightily against him, hitting just .103 (8-for-78) with 24 strikeouts in 89 total trips to the plate. Opposing hitters batted just .158 when facing him with men on base.

The 30-year-old is eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career this offseason and is one of a half-dozen pitchers on the roster who will have to wait to know if they have a place on the staff for next season. projects his arbitration figure to be approximately $700,000.

Manship is not guaranteed a role or even a spot on next season’s club, but he may have done enough for Francona to merit a second look next spring. Each bullpen needs guys within various specialties and Manship may have pitched his way into an Atchison-type role as an inexpensive sixth or seventh inning arm for the Indians.

Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

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