Pro baseball: Manship battling for roster spot

The Philadelphia Inquirer

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jeff Manship entered free agency last Oct. 19, two days after the pitching-starved Colorado Rockies discarded the right-hander. His resume boasted nothing extraordinary; a 6.42 ERA in 52 career games, a few starts, and a checkered health history.

The Phillies called more than a month later. They were the first — and only — team to inquire about Manship’s 29-year-old right arm. The two sides reached an agreement Dec. 2 on a minor-league contract.

“It was really an easy decision, I thought,” said Manship, who pitched for Notre Dame. “Granted, I didn’t have any other options.”

He grinned. Manship, with his right arm wrapped in ice, enjoyed this moment. He continued his sublime spring with three decent innings Sunday against Minnesota, the team that drafted him. In seven Grapefruit League innings, Manship has permitted one run with six strikeouts and one walk.

There is nothing special about Manship; he throws strikes, coaxes ground balls, and is healthy. That qualifies him as a strong candidate to join the Phillies rotation as a fifth starter. Injuries to Cole Hamels, Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin whittled a thin pitching pool. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez’s rustiness further complicates the situation.

Enter Manship, a 14th-round pick in 2006 who underwent Tommy John surgery during his freshman year at Notre Dame and lived on the major-league fringe for the last five seasons. He described his career, to this point, as “rocky.”

“From what our scouts had seen of him, he’s always had a good arm,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “Sometimes guys get it late. Sometimes guys get it early. ... Who knows? Sometimes it clicks for guys and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s early, but he has impressed so far.”

Seven spring innings do not outweigh five mediocre seasons. Maybe the Phillies uncovered something because even spring success is uncommon for Manship; his four previous spring ERAs were 5.14, 5.19, 5.02 and 14.29.

“This offseason I was working on a lot of things,” Manship said. “Just breathing right. Really, just staying in control. That is why I get myself in trouble, when something starts happening and I get too worked up out there.”

Manager Ryne Sandberg said he spoke to Manship on the first day of camp after watching an impressive bullpen session. Manship told him about his offseason work.

“This is a time for opportunity,” Sandberg said. “So just take a look. You just never know. If a guy’s lights-out for the spring, could mean something.”

Manship shuttled between Minnesota and Rochester, N.Y., for four years; the Twins optioned him to triple A three separate times in 2010. They recalled him once in 2012 for bullpen help and his jersey was misspelled “MANSIHP.” Unaware of the mistake, he pitched a scoreless sixth inning in Kansas City.

The Twins used Manship for 12 games in 2012 as a mop-up man. His ERA was 7.89. They dumped him less than a month after the season’s conclusion. Three weeks later, Colorado signed him to a minor-league deal.

He did not return to the majors until last August, when the Rockies required an emergency starter. Manship drove from Colorado Springs to Denver the night before his outing and hopped a red-eye flight to New York. He landed at 5 a.m. First pitch was 12:13 p.m. He allowed two runs in five innings.

The remainder of his season was forgettable. Manship started three more games before Colorado banished him to the bullpen. He finished with a 7.04 ERA in 30ð innings, his most major-league work since his rookie season.

He opposed a skeleton Twins lineup Sunday. Three regulars — Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Kurt Suzuki — played. Manship fired first-pitch strikes to just four of 11 hitters. Mauer singled home Minnesota’s lone run in a 1-1 tie.

Manship said he never was considered for a starting job in past springs. He arrived at Phillies camp with no expectations, but circumstance elevated his status.

“I like the competition,” Manship said. “I feel like here, knowing there is something to fight for, you’re not going to take any shortcuts.”

Former Notre Dame pitcher Jeff Manship, 29, is trying to land a spot in the Philadelphia rotation. (AP Photo/CHARLIE NEIBERGALL)