Can Matt Mantei Revive His Career In Detroit?

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LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) -- Matt Mantei figured his baseball career was all over in 2006. He just wanted to play golf.
He was on the mound in Toledo, pitching for the Detroit Tigers' Class AAA club and was throwing a great game. He also realized that his mind wasn't into baseball anymore, so he walked away, he said.
Since making his major league debut with the Florida Marlins in 1995, he had been on the disabled list 14 times, with most of the injuries occurring to his right pitching shoulder. He decided to call it a career.
That should have been the end to Mantei's story, but his wife Erica told him otherwise.
"Mentally I wasn't where I wanted to be," Mantei said. "I had been injured enough and I just wanted to go home and play golf. My wife convinced me to give it one more shot. My son wanted to see me play major league baseball, so that's why I am back."
Mantei's 5-year-old son, Hayden -- a frequent guest in the clubhouse at Tigertown -- might have been part of the reason Mantei came back, but so was Detroit's need for middle relief help this season. Mantei said he knows he's likely to open the season at Toledo but just wants to give baseball one final shot, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland agreed to give him a chance. He's a nonroster player, but the door is wide open.
"He's throwing hard," Leyland said. "We'll see what happens when it's time for him to go full-bore. He is a pro and he knows what he is up against."
Mantei's career started with the Marlins, where he pitched part of four seasons before being traded to Arizona in 1999. He's never started a big league game but has earned a reputation as a quality pitcher in middle relief.
He went to Boston as a free agent for the 2005 season and suffered a left ankle ligament sprain. When the time the 2006 season began, he was back in AAA and suffered a left oblique strain and a sore right shoulder within six weeks of each other. Mantei called it quits just after his final pitching appearance in Toledo following his comeback attempt.
He has pitched in 315 career major league games with a record of 14-18 and a 4.07 ERA.
Mantei pitched a bullpen session Saturday, airing it out at what he called 85 percent. He said he thinks he has an outside shot at making the team although he knows there are no guarantees.
"I just want to rehab and work out," Mantei said. "So far, so good. I haven't felt this good in a lot of years. I am okay for now, but I don't know how it might feel in three days or so."
He is realistic about his prospects for traveling to Detroit to open the season.
"I have four weeks to make it there, and if not I can be happy in Toledo," Mantei said. "I don't expect to go because I have pitched too long. I know what goes on in baseball. I have experience that helps me and injuries that hurt me. I will be able to take a hint."
Mantei spent the winter pitching at an indoor tennis court in his hometown of Stevensville, Mich., and threw off a mound for the first time in Detroit on Jan. 11. He said he felt better than he ever has, but claims he's gone under the knife for the last time.
"If I can't pitch well, that's it," Mantei said. "There will be no more surgeries. Look at my records. I know I can pitch. But I am not going through another operation. I have done everything I can and I wasn't even sure about coming back until my wife told me to give it one last shot."

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