Chattanooga: Lookouts' All-Star reliever leads league in ERA
By: David Paschall
Robert Manuel can’t compete in the Chattanooga Lookouts bullpen.
Not in the nightly dart competition beyond the AT&T Field wall that occupies Lookouts relief pitchers during the early innings.
“I’m about third to last on the depth chart in darts,” Manuel said. “I lose my concentration after about three or four throws, and then I’m not into it anymore.”
In performing on the mound, however, Manuel is second to nobody. Not on the Lookouts. Not in the Southern League.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander from Houston is 3-1 with a 1.31 earned run average through 31 games. He has tallied 60 strikeouts in 48 innings and allowed just nine walks.
His ERA is the lowest among any current league pitcher with 15 or more appearances.
“You look at his numbers and you look at his velocity, and you wonder how he does it,” Lookouts manager Mike Goff said. “He’s 87 to 90 miles an hour, but every once in a while you see a guy come along who throws a ball that has a jump to it in the last six feet. Can you teach that? No.
“It’s God-gifted how that ball comes out of his hand and has that late jump. It looks like it’s 88 to 90 but plays out like it’s 95 the way batters try to put swings on it.”
When told Goff’s comments, Manuel said, “It’s a compact delivery with not a lot of movement. I really don’t know what I do.”
Manuel, who had not allowed a run in 10 straight appearances before Monday, joined Chattanooga 11 games into the year from high Single-A Sarasota and was an obvious choice for next Monday’s all-star game in Zebulon, N.C.
“I want to say I could have imagined this, but I didn’t,” Manuel said. “I’m thankful for what I’ve done so far. I want to do just as well in the second half and hopefully be in Cincinnati at some point, if not this year then next year.”
A shortstop at Bellaire High School and San Jacinto College, Manuel didn’t pitch until being asked to do so at Sam Houston State. With such a late start on the mound, he was bypassed in the 2005 draft and joined the New York Mets as a free agent. He was traded to the Reds in May 2006 for big-league pitcher Dave Williams.
Manuel, who turns 25 on Wednesday, views his pitching youth as a plus.
“I think that definitely plays a factor, because guys who pitched in high school have an extra four years compared to what I have,” he said. “I’m a little fresher, plus being in the bullpen keeps me even more fresh.”
Last season, Manuel started out as a reliever in Sarasota but became a starter when current Lookouts teammate Travis Wood sustained a shoulder injury. He believes that experience had some benefits, but he was happy to return to a supporting role.
Manuel said he prefers relieving because he can help determine an outcome three or four times a week instead of just one.
Deception, such as hiding the ball well and mixing up speeds, has played a part in his success. Another reason is his ability to work fast.
“As a hitter, I didn’t like it when a pitcher would speed up,” Manuel said. “A lot of times you would just call time out, step out and collect your rhythm. I was always taught to change speeds, throw strikes and work quick. I don’t want to be out there long, and I always want the defense to be ready.”
Said pitching coach Chris Bosio: “By doing that, you tend to get more defensive swings rather than really aggressive offensive swings, because you’re messing with a hitter’s timing. Guys who work fast and throw strikes are going to get better defense behind them, because people want to play behind them.”
Henry, Price honored
Lookouts outfielder Sean Henry was named Monday as Southern League Hitter of the Week. Henry hit .519 last week, amassing a league-leading 14 hits, nine runs scored and six doubles from five different spots in the batting order.
Former Vanderbilt standout David Price, now with the Montgomery Biscuits, earned the league’s weekly pitching honor. The No. 1 pick of the 2007 draft was 2-0 last week with an 0.69 ERA and has not allowed an extra-base hit all season to a left-handed hitter.