Small tweak meant big things for Manship

Switch to 3B side of rubber keyed career turnaround

March 6th, 2016

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When Indians reliever Jeff Manship returned home to Texas over the offseason, he had a big hug waiting for Skip Johnson. The pitching coach for the University of Texas could not have known it at the time, but his suggestion two offseasons ago helped save Manship's career.

"I've got to give a lot of credit to him," Manship said on Sunday morning.

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Heading into last season, Manship feared that his future in baseball was in jeopardy. During a winter mound workout, Johnson asked the right-hander to try shifting to the third-base side of the pitching rubber. Given his career track record to that point, Manship had nothing to lose, so he gave the idea a shot.

That simple move on the mound altered Manship's release point and created a bit more deception on his pitches. After signing with the Indians and working with pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Jason Bere, Manship also scrapped his four-seam fastball, put his changeup in his back pocket and focused on throwing sinkers and sliders.

The results were astonishing in the 2015 season.

"He pitched really good," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It's certainly a fun story. He's a kid that got to the big leagues, but probably didn't distinguish himself as a starter. He just couldn't, but as a bullpen guy, you see his velocity tick up a little bit and he's got a really good breaking ball."

After posting a 6.46 ERA in 72 career games with the Twins, Rockies and Phillies from 2009-14, Manship turned himself into one of the Majors' top relievers last summer. He signed with Cleveland on a Minor League contract and did not get the call to the big leages until June, but the righty made the most of the innings he was offered down the stretch.

In 39 1/3 innings, Manship spun a tidy 0.92 ERA, which ranked first among the 214 Major League relievers who had at least 30 innings last season. Within that same group of pitchers, Manship ranked first in WHIP (0.76) and opponents' OPS (.44), second in opponents' slugging percentage (.225), third in opponents' on-base percentage (.215) and fourth in opponents' average (.150) and average on balls in play (.192).

Manship threw more two-seam sinkers (56.4 percent) and sliders (43.5 percent) than he had in any season in his career and his average velocity on both pitches (92.8 mph and 88.3 mph, respectively) were also career highs. After throwing a changeup between 10-14 percent each season prior to '15, Manship only featured the pitch 0.2 percent of the time last summer.

At least for the start of this season, Manship does not plan on altering too much.

"I definitely have to maintain the course," Manship said. "I don't want to change anything, by any means. I've toyed around with just throwing more changeups, but I don't know still. Mickey and J.B. have said, 'You've seen what's successful for you. Stick with that. You don't need to change yet.'"

Asked why he did not move to the opposite side of the pitching rubber earlier in his career, Manship laughed.

"I'm glad it happened later than not at all," he replied. "It was something that needed to happen. I probably would've been out of baseball. I really think it was coming to that time where things weren't going well, so it was, 'How long is this really going to last where I'll still get opportunities?' It made a huge change for me. I'm definitely grateful for that."