Sam Donnellon: It isn't pretty, but Blanton gets job done for Phillies

Joe Blanton wipes face after collision with Logan Morrison.
Joe Blanton wipes face after collision with Logan Morrison.
Posted: September 08, 2010

THEY GAVE HIM $24 million for 3 years and that started his troubles. Joe Blanton is not a lights-out guy, not a shutdown guy, not a guy you want to watch pitch without your hands real close to your face.

He is not Cliff Lee. Never claimed to be. He's a grinder, a worker, a guy who looks more like your dad throwing batting practice than he does a reliable major league starter.

But for most of his career, he's been as reliable as dad's car. Yeah, he's not much to look at out there and he runs dirty most of the time, but the difference between the Phillies' fourth starter and their fifth starter is not only about the dollars.

Yes, yes, yes, the Phillies are less likely to give up on an $8 million-a-year arm than they are one that costs 1/16th that. And yes, yes, Blanton took the hill last night with a higher earned run average than Kyle Kendrick, with his own recent disastrous outing casting doubt about what he will offer in these final crucial weeks of the season.

But there are tangible differences in what Blanton gives you as compared to what Kendrick does, differences less mathematical than they are psychological, differences that have ripple effects, especially this time of the year.

Blanton pitched into the seventh inning of last night's 8-7 victory over the Florida Marlins, the 18th time he has pitched six or more innings this season.

"That's kind of what I do," he was saying after the Phillies regained first with their messy win. "Or that's kind of what I want to do. Sometimes it might not be the best outing, but I always go out and give everything I've got.

"If nothing else, you're fighting and clawing and trying to get through seven so you can help the bullpen out and not make them throw a bunch of innings."

He threw 101 pitches, took a line drive off his butt, had a big-time collision with black-eyed, calamity-friendly Logan Morrison trying to cover the bag on a third-inning dribbler. This is far from official, but my guess is that Joe Blanton experiences more contact in an average game than Asante Samuel does.

Yes, yes, yes. He allowed two doubles in the first two innings and two triples in the fourth inning and three runs crossed the plate in the first four innings, not unlike Kendrick's Sunday outing.

But then he retired seven in a row.

Those seven in a row allowed this game to change from one we've seen so many times this season to one that reminded us of 2007, or 2008, or even 2009. Home runs. Steals. Hit-and-run, two-out runs batted in, all but Jayson Werth - who drove the ball to the wall in fourth - on base at one time or another.

Blanton also issued just two walks, one intentional, the 19th time this season he has not walked more than two. And although his goal was to finish the seventh, not just start it, he left with a 5-3 lead.

"I felt he took us to a good place in the game," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, ignoring the irony of the bad things that happened after he left.

Blanton was lifted after a four-pitch walk, and Antonio Bastardo surrendered a run-scoring double. Chad Durbin, money all year long, pitched out of further trouble, but Jose Contreras and Werth combined to make a mess of the eighth inning, requiring one last Phillies rally to regain the lead in the bottom of the inning.

But those seven in a row spared further use of a bullpen that, while overmanned due to September callups, is far from overqualified. They settled down a game long enough to give his chance to rally, to score runs, something they do for Joe Blanton with annoying consistency.

When Kendrick was removed after four innings Sunday, it was the 11th time this season he had failed to make it past the fifth inning. It's the most by a major league starter this season.

Blanton and Jamie Moyer have the team's next highest total. They're tied with three.

In 2009, the Phillies averaged more than five runs per 27 outs. They have averaged six for Blanton this year.

That's nothing to write to Cliff Lee about.

But it's still good stuff, more times than not. He's not always or often pretty, or clean, but if it ends with the team in first place, as it did last night, if it gets you places like dad's reliable car, how much should you complain?

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