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Twins hope Manship can fill Guerrier's shoes

Twins hope Manship can fill Guerrier's shoes

Twins hope Manship can fill Guerrier's shoes
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson remembers watching Matt Guerrier develop from a long reliever, who occasionally filled in as a spot starter, early in his career into one of the team's primary setup options over the past few seasons.

The Twins grew to rely on him a lot, but with Guerrier now gone after signing a three-year deal with the Dodgers this winter as a free agent, the club is looking for other pitchers to fill that hole -- and perhaps go through a similar developmental process.

One of those relievers is right-hander Jeff Manship. And it's why Anderson posed a question to Manship after watching his first bullpen session of the spring.

"I said to him, 'Are you going to take Matty's job?'" Anderson said. "He said he wanted it, and I told him, 'It's in your hands.'"

Then Anderson added, "It's about his time."

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Anderson has been impressed by Manship's focus so far this spring and how well the pitcher has looked since arriving at camp. Immediately, Anderson said he saw that Manship is on a mission to be on the Opening Day roster, especially after making five trips back and forth between Triple-A Rochester and the Majors last season.

"It's definitely motivating," Manship said of his conversation with Anderson. "It kind of lights a fire under you. You just take everything as serious as possible right now in Spring Training, knowing what's at stake and what opportunities are available."

Having spent most of his career as a starter, Manship shifted his focus this winter to preparing for a relief role, knowing the holes that the Twins have to fill.

The right-hander was 2-1 with a 5.28 ERA in 13 appearances (one start) for the Twins last season, but he said there was a lot that he took from his second season of spending time at the Major League level.

"Really, all of those guys in the bullpen last year helped me out," Manship said. "I'm still trying to figure out what it takes to be a reliever and how to get ready and just be prepared at certain times during the game. It's still pretty new to me. I think I'm figuring it out, and over the past two seasons, I've made a lot of progress in that."

Manship certainly understands the rigors of being the guy to bounce around between the Minors and the Majors. His goal this time around is to earn a roster spot out of Spring Training and avoid the constant travel that he endured last year, when some of his stints in the Majors lasted just a couple of days before he was on his way back to Rochester.

"It just makes you work harder, I think," Manship said. "You know what it's like in the big leagues, and getting sent back down to Triple-A, it's tough on you. At the same time, every time you get called back up is that much better. Last year, I got to experience that five different times -- which is great. I don't want to go back to Rochester, and hopefully this year I'll stay up the whole time."

In conversations about the open spots in the bullpen, Twins general manager Bill Smith has repeatedly mentioned Manship as one of the pitchers who should be in the mix. But there are certainly a number of others vying for those spots as well. The Twins have 27 pitchers in camp.

And with the odd man out in the starting-rotation race expected to occupy one of the four remaining bullpen positions, Manship may have to prove that he's ready for more than just a long-relief role.

"His biggest thing is commanding his fastball," Anderson said. "He survives because he can throw all of his offspeed pitches for strikes at any time. But once he gets good command of his fastball, he is going to be very effective. Every time he comes back [to the Majors], he continues to get better. The more he keeps improving, the more likely it is that he could pitch later in the game."

Manship pitched a scoreless inning in his first Spring Training outing Sunday night against the Red Sox and added another scoreless inning against the Pirates on Wednesday, issuing one walk. But results are just a part of how the Twins will evaluate their relief options, and Manship is trying to do everything he can to impress the staff.

While Manship envisioned his future to be as a starter one day at the Major League level, he certainly is not opposed to following a similar career path to Guerrier and working his way into a late-inning role. Manship's hope is that his journey on that path begins right out of spring.

"For the team to have that kind of confidence in you to pitch in the late innings would always be something that's special," Manship said. "If a starting role ever came about and they offered it to me, I would take it. But right now, I'm focused on the bullpen. I realize all the starting jobs are locked up, so that's the last thing on my mind. Right now, I'm just focused on getting any spot in the bullpen."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Kelly's Corner and follow her on Twitter at kellythesier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }