Thursday, March 13, 2003

Manzanillo could land in bullpen


Journeyman, 35, is with 10th organization

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

SARASOTA, Fla. - Given the depth of the Reds' bullpen, it was going to take a pretty good arm and a pretty good spring to earn a spot.

Josias Manzanillo qualifies on both counts. Manzanillo, a 35-year-old right-hander, has pitched his way into the Reds' plans.

He has a save and has allowed only one hit in six innings for the Reds this spring. He has walked none and struck out six.

"He's done a great job all spring long," pitching coach Don Gullett said. "He's a guy who comes in and comes right at hitters. He certainly shows you he knows what he's doing out there by the way he goes about getting hitters out. Without question, he's healthy and feeling good. He's done some great things for us early."

Manzanillo ended up with the Reds after the Pittsburgh Pirates released him.

"I thought I was home in Pittsburgh," Manzanillo said. "I thought I was made for the place. But I was hurt and couldn't compete. It was time to get out. I find myself in Cincinnati. It's another chapter."

There are a lot of chapters in Manzanillo's book. The Reds are his 10th organization. He had two stints with the New York Mets and once pitched for the Mets and Yankees in the same year.

This is his 21st year in pro ball, counting two years he missed with injuries.

The Pirates were willing to let Manzanillo go because he struggled last year. He spent more time in the minors than the majors and was 0-0 with a 7.62 ERA in 13 games with the Pirates. He gave up 20 hits in only 13 innings. He walked five and struck out only four.

But he was pitching hurt.

He had bone chips removed from his elbow May 6 and tried to come back a month later.

"It's not easy," he said. "You think you can just bounce back. Actually, I did. But game-wise, I wasn't sharp enough to compete on the major-league level."

The Reds were willing to sign Manzanillo to a minor-league contract in hopes he'd get healthy.

"Apparently, Jim Bowden remembered who I was and what I can do when I'm healthy," Manzanillo said. "He gave me a shot."

What the Reds' general manager remembered was what Manzanillo was in 2000 and '01. That's when Manzanillo finally put together sustained success in the big leagues after eight stints in the majors.

He went 2-2 with a 3.38 ERA in 2000. In 2001, he went 3-2 with a 3.39 ERA. In 792/3 innings, he allowed only 60 hits and struck out 80.

He has looked like that guy again.

"The year before last, he had a great year," Gullett said. "Last year, he had some physical problems. That's all been taken care of. I haven't seen him throw any better than he's throwing right now."

You might have seen Manzanillo pitch and not realized it. He's the guy who pumps his fist and springs off the mound after a successful inning.

"The run has been my trademark," he said. "I get so excited sometimes - all this energy - I can't release it. So I do my sprint back to the dugout. I guess it is a sign of joy. I enjoy the game."

Manzanillo, one of 25 pitchers in camp, realizes he is not a lock for a job.

Eight spots are virtually guaranteed, which leaves three or four spots, depending on whether the Reds go with 11 or 12 pitchers.

One of the spots will go to the fifth starter.

Manzanillo is battling Kent Mercker, Felix Heredia, Ricardo Aramboles and Carlos Almanzar for the two or three remaining bullpen spots.

"If you look around (the clubhouse) - I cannot count them all - but there's a lot of people around," Manzanillo said. "I know what I'm capable of when I'm healthy. That decision is up to Bowden and Bob Boone."

The decision on Manzanillo won't be made until the end of spring training.

If the Reds can't find a spot for him, he'll be ready to go to his 11th organization.

"That's a long way off," Manzanillo said. "(But) I figure the way I'm throwing the ball, there will be a place somewhere."

E-mail jfay@enquirer.com




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