Condrey's mission: Make the Phillies
Right-hander hoping there's room for him in bullpen
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- In traveling from Philadelphia to Ottawa, Canada, by way of Navasota, Texas, as often as he did last season, Clay Condrey joked that he'd accumulated enough frequent-flier miles "for a trip to the moon."Did he go? "NASA hasn't gotten back to me yet," Condrey said. "I got too busy to cash in the miles anyway. If they have fishing up there, I'll go." While it's hard to picture Condrey casting a line in the Sea of Tranquility -- the lack of gravity and water on the moon's surface makes it pretty tough -- it's becoming easier to see him as a part of the Phillies' galaxy that is the bullpen. The righty has appeared in a team-leading nine Grapefruit League games, posting a 3.48 ERA in 10 1/3 innings. As always, Condrey is fighting for what appears to be two bullpen jobs, assuming the Phillies take 12 pitchers north. Besides Condrey, the field includes Travis Blackley, J.D. Durbin, Vic Darensbourg, Francisco Rosario and Gary Knotts. As non-roster invitees, Darensbourg and Knotts can be sent to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but the Phillies don't have that luxury with the other four. Condrey, Rosario or Durbin must clear waivers, and Blackley, a Rule 5 Draft pick, has to remain on the 25-man roster all season or be offered back to San Francisco. Through five separate stints with the Phillies in 2007, including his second Opening Day, Condrey pitched in a career-high 39 games. He compiled a 5.04 ERA and allowed 77 baserunners in 50 1/3 innings, hardly a performance that earns any collateral for the following season. And Condrey knows this. "After last year, I'm not going to speculate on anything," he said. "I'm going to eat my breakfast, drink my coffee, have a couple of conversations and go to work. I hope I don't get called into the office." It wouldn't be the first time. Though Condrey's ERA can be described as unsightly, 23 of the 28 earned runs he allowed came in 5 1/3 innings over six games. All five games were blowouts. In his other 34 appearances and 44 2/3 innings, Condrey has allowed five runs and has a 1.01 ERA. So just pitch him in close games. "When he came in games where we were up or down by three or [fewer runs], he was awesome," catcher Chris Coste said. "He gave up runs when he was just in there to log innings. He rarely gave up runs in a meaningful situation. It was mind-boggling how many times he'd throw one pitch and get out of the inning or get a double-play ball on the first pitch."
Condrey's aggressiveness has made him a favorite of manager Charlie Manuel since walks and wildness are the quickest way to infuriate your skipper, and Condrey tends to attack hitters and put the ball in play."He's pitched good [this spring] and showed last year that he could pitch," Manuel said. "He's definitely in that mix of guys. He showed us last year what he could do." Condrey, like his roommate Coste, took a long path to the Major Leagues. Undrafted out of junior college, the Texan took two weekends off from his job with Gritex Electric in Navasota, Texas, where he was working on "building the county jail" to audition for open spots. Condrey caught the attention of the San Diego Padres. He made his debut in 2002, and pitched in '06 and '07 for the Phillies. His first Opening Day, in '03, stood out for all the wrong reasons. "I teared up for my first," Condrey said. "I was in the outfield shagging, and Jesse Orosco came by and said, 'Happy Opening Day.' I couldn't believe it. A few hours later, I gave up home runs to Benito Santiago and J.T. Snow and a line drive to Marquis Grissom that almost took my head off. They took me out to boos from 62,000 people. That was special, let me tell you." Condrey was especially proud of the book, "The 33-Year-Old Rookie," written by Coste, and he smiled at the notion that he could tell a similar tale of perseverance. An avid hunter and fisherman, Condrey joked that he'd write a cookbook, which Coste said would be called, "How to Cook Redneck." "I'm an eat-out kind of guy," Coste said. "We eat out a lot. I'm an incredibly picky eater, but he could cook for me every night of the week. It's amazing that I've lost a pound or two this Spring Training, because I should've gained five or six pounds." But what about the baseball story? "I get knocked down and I get up again," Coste said. "He's like me in that he has no Plan B. In some ways, it's good not to have one, because it forces you to keep going. If you see him play over the course of two months, you'd appreciate what he does." Condrey laughed at that title, but he offered a more appropriate name. "See-sawing," he said.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.