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(Yonhap Interview) From World Series to S. Korea, Jeff Manship has 'no regrets' about move

2017/08/24 09:32

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By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Aug. 24 (Yonhap) -- Around this time a year ago, American right-hander Jeff Manship was pitching for the Cleveland Indians, who would go on to win the American League pennant in October. They even opened a 3-1 lead over the Chicago Cubs in the World Series before bowing out in seven games, with Manship making two appearances in the memorable series.

Turn the clock forward to August 2017. Manship, 32, is now pitching for the NC Dinos in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). After pitching out of the bullpen for the Indians, Manship was the Opening Day starter for the Dinos, currently the third-best club in the 10-team league at 65-50-1 (wins-losses-ties).

Going from making World Series appearances one year to pitching in South Korea the very next year may seem to be a step-down. But whatever the perception, Manship said he has "no regrets" about his decision.

In this file photo taken on April 13, 2017, Jeff Manship of the NC Dinos throws a pitch against the LG Twins in their Korea Baseball Organization game at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province. (Yonhap) In this file photo taken on April 13, 2017, Jeff Manship of the NC Dinos throws a pitch against the LG Twins in their Korea Baseball Organization game at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province. (Yonhap)

"This offseason, an opportunity came around, and it was something my wife and I felt was in my best interest to take," Manship told Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday at Jamsil Stadium, before the Dinos beat the host LG Twins 4-3 in 10 innings. "I have no regrets about it. I've really enjoyed it here. My wife loves it here."

   Manship, a native of San Antonio, Texas, said he'd "always wanted to play in Asia," and he pounced on the opportunity to play in the KBO because he felt "it was the right time."

   "I feel like the opportunity that was presented to me in the U.S. didn't equal what the opportunity was here," he said. "I didn't expect (playing in the KBO) to happen, but the fact that it did was a blessing."

   Manship said having success on the mound has made his experience that much more fun. And the Dinos couldn't have asked for a better start for Manship, who set a league record by winning his first seven KBO games.

Manship was 7-0 with a 1.49 ERA when he came down with an elbow injury in May. He missed two months, and has gone 2-2 in eight starts since.

Manship's ERA rose to 2.81 after he allowed a season-high five earned runs against the Twins Wednesday, that mark would still put him at the top of the league if he had enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Across 83 1/3 innings, Manship has struck out 68 and walked 21.

Manship hasn't entirely ruled out a return to the majors. Before playing for the Indians in 2015 and 2016, Manship had pitched for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies. He has a 7-10 record and a 4.82 ERA in 157 appearances, 10 of them starts.

But he'd be more than happy to stay put with the Dinos.

"I hope I have the opportunity to come back here. We'll see what happens," he said. "Obviously, being from the U.S., if a great deal came about over there, I'd be happy about that. I think there are probably more options here. If I can stay healthy, I think I should have some opportunities. We'll see next year."

   One former member of the NC Dinos, Eric Thames of the Milwaukee Brewers, has thrived in his second tour of duty in the majors after dominating the KBO for three years. Manship said people now realize how good hitters in the KBO are, given how good of a transition Thames has made.

"If you can come over here (as a pitcher) and perform well against these hitters, it speaks more for you," he said. "There are definitely great hitters here."

   In fact, Manship had to bring the changeup back to his repertoire in spring training to prepare for his first KBO season. The Dinos told Manship that he would need that extra pitch.

"When I was in the bullpen with Cleveland, I never really threw it. I just threw fastballs and sliders," Manship said. "I give a lot of credit to these hitters. I always have to study and try to find their weaknesses and try to exploit them. I think (catcher Kim) Tae-gun and I have done a really good job so far this season."

   Thanks in no small part to Manship's heroics on the mound, the Dinos are well on their way to their fourth straight postseason.

The Dinos were in second place at the All-Star break but have since been overtaken by the Doosan Bears, the two-time reigning champions who have gone 24-7-1 (wins-losses-ties) in the second half. The Dinos, in comparison, are 17-15 and now trail the Bears by 2.5 games. The Kia Tigers are in first, six games up on the Dinos.

With 28 games remaining, the Dinos are four games ahead of the surging Lotte Giants in third. In addition to the two clubs ahead of them, the Dinos have to look over their shoulders now, too.

But Manship said he won't even pay attention to those teams.

In this file photo taken on March 31, 2017, Jeff Manship of the NC Dinos delivers a pitch against the Lotte Giants on the Korea Baseball Organization's Opening Day at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province. (Yonhap) In this file photo taken on March 31, 2017, Jeff Manship of the NC Dinos delivers a pitch against the Lotte Giants on the Korea Baseball Organization's Opening Day at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province. (Yonhap)

"We can't look at other guys around us. We need to focus on ourselves and focus on the task at hand," he said. "If we keep winning games, we'll be in a good place. We just have to focus on playing our game, getting big hits when we need them and getting pitchers to throw well when we need to."

   One other aspect of the KBO that has made Manship's first season enjoyable is fan support. Manship said he hadn't heard anything about what to expect, until Eric Hacker, his teammate now in his fifth KBO season, told Manship before the season that he'd love the atmosphere.

The raucous cheering from start to finish, with the cheerleaders dancing on stages for both home and road teams, and fans chanting players' names to drum beats and singing their walk-up songs -- all of that was new to Manship. And as he puts it, "It's lived up to hype."

   "I love the passion they have here, and how excited they are," he said. "You see how emotional fans get on something simple like a base hit. I love how invested they're in the game. It's intense. I think the music adds a whole new element, too. There's never really any dull point in the game."

   jeeho@yna.co.kr

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