As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 53 days
The Cleveland Indians have made a pleasant habit of finding pitching options in surprise locations and last season was no exception.
With a taxed bullpen and in need of some stability from their relief forces, the Indians called upon Jeff Manship. The club had signed him to a minor league deal in December following the 2014 season with an invitation to spring training.
You may know him now from the meme of his face plastered on top of a battleship, generally shared on Twitter with the hashtag #AllAboard in tow.
The Indians found a gem, at least for one year, with Scott Atchison in 2014. The previous season, the Tribe had a strong return from starter Scott Kazmir, who had previously been out of professional ball for a period of time.
Manship, in his tenth pro season, made his case to make the club out of spring training, when he was 1-0 with a 0.79 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and three saves in 12 appearances. He struck out 14 batters in eleven and one-third innings, both either the top mark for relievers on the staff or tied for it. The Indians, however, kept Anthony Swarzak on the roster with his longman potential, and Manship headed to Columbus.
There, he did nothing to hurt his cause and it paid off by midseason. Swarzak, who had been hit hard during the spring, had allowed nine runs over 13 1/3 innings (five earned). Opponents were hitting .316 off of the veteran righty and in mid-June, he was released and headed to Korea to pitch.
Manship worked in middle relief for the Clippers and started the season with an impressive two inning effort in Indianapolis, striking out five of the eight batters he faced. He ran into a bump in the road in his last appearance in April and first outing in May, allowing two runs in each ball game, but settled down to allow just one more run over his next 15 games. He made 23 appearances with the Clippers, going 0-2 with a 1.99 ERA. With the hole in the bullpen created with the Swarzak move, Manship headed to Cleveland.
He did the bulk of his work for the Tribe in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. Thirteen times out of 32 appearances he worked more than an inning and 16 times he pitched in multiple innings. He struck out 33 batters on the year in 39 1/3 innings and walked just ten. The walk total, combined with just 20 hits allowed in his outings, led to a 0.76 WHIP.
Manship excelled against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .103 batting average for the season in 89 plate appearances. A total of 24 of his strikeouts came versus righties, who managed just seven walks, five singles, and three doubles off of the bullpen arm. Left-handed hitters batted .235 against him to provide him with a .155 batting average allowed for the season.
He finished the season with a 1-0 record, a 0.92 ERA, and that miniscule 0.76 WHIP.
Manship began his Major League journey with his selection in the 14th round of the 2006 draft by the Minnesota Twins after time at the University of Notre Dame. He debuted with the Twins in 2009 with a scoreless inning against the Indians and appeared in eleven games for the club that season. He pitched in 13 games in 2010, five in 2011, and 12 in 2012 before becoming a free agent.
He signed with Colorado and pitched for the Rockies and their Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs, working as both a starter and reliever at both spots, but posting an 0-5 record with a 7.04 ERA at the Major League level. He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies following the 2013 season and earned a bullpen spot on their roster to start the season. A 6.65 ERA over 23 innings of 20 games led to his designation for assignment and outright off of their roster that July. He elected free agency after the season.
He has been a two-seamer and slider pitcher throughout his career, but he will mix in four-seamers and changeups. Last season, he used the four-seamer just 2.2% of his pitch selection and the changeup 1.3% of the time, the lowest percentages of his career and, incidentally, during the best season of his career. He is primarily a ground ball pitcher. With the Tribe, 63.6% of his pitches went for strikes and he posted a career-best strikeout per nine rate of 7.55 and a strikeout rate of 22.9%. His swing-and-miss rate was also a career-best.
His success may have been due to ditching some of his lesser effective pitches and moving to the right side of the pitching rubber, which he shared in a story on Cleveland.com in October allowed him “more extension on his pitches and it essentially boosted the effectiveness of his slider.”
Manship and the Indians avoided arbitration in January when he signed a one-year, $765,000 tender.
If the traveled 31-year-old can continue with the success that he found on the mound in the coming season, Manship could be a significant piece for the Indians in the middle innings to bridge the gap to Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen in the setup and closing roles in manager Terry Francona‘s heavily-used bullpen.
Photo: Jerry Holt/Star Tribune