Phillies' Blanton not worried about being an ace

Phillies starter Joe Blanton allowed two runs and six baserunners in 32/3 innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Phillies starter Joe Blanton allowed two runs and six baserunners in 32/3 innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Posted: March 05, 2011

BRADENTON, Fla. - The ball wasn't hit particularly hard, but it was coming right back at Joe Blanton, who was in a vulnerable position after finishing his delivery. He couldn't reach out to snag the ball, so he just twisted his glove behind his left leg to fill the gap.

The ball plopped right into the glove, and Blanton tossed it to first for the out, eliciting more laughs than cheers at McKechnie Field.

"A lot of luck in there," Blanton said. "I didn't even know I caught it."

OK, so it wasn't Blanton's version of Cliff Lee coolly catching a pop-up in the World Series. But Blanton has done nothing yet this spring to suggest he doesn't belong with the grouping of Four Aces.

Not that he wants to be labeled as one. There is no need to feign being an ace.

"If you're doing that," Blanton said, "you're trying to be someone you're not."

In 62/3 innings of Grapefruit League play, Blanton has allowed two runs and six baserunners. For a pitcher who views spring training as no more than "just getting my work in," it represents a decent beginning to 2011.

Friday against Pittsburgh, Blanton threw 32/3 innings and allowed two runs, although one came across after Danys Baez had entered the game.

"I felt more comfortable [Friday], which I think is a positive step at this time," Blanton said.

If all eyes are on the first four members of the Phillies starting rotation, Blanton is completely satisfied with obscurity.

"I think there has definitely been a little bit of attention, but for me I look at these other guys, and they've done so much," Blanton said. "[Roy] Oswalt has won 20 games a couple times, and he's always up there in the Cy Young running. The two guys at the top are always in the Cy Young running, and Cole [Hamels] is a World Series MVP. They've done so much."

That's not to say Blanton is without a label. Being the "best fifth starter in baseball" isn't glamorous, but if Blanton pitches like he did in the second half of 2010, he would be exactly that. His 4.82 ERA was Blanton's highest since 2006, but after the all-star break, it was 3.48.

If there is one thing he could improve, it would be his first-inning performance. In 2010, Blanton allowed 20 earned runs in the 28 first innings of starts he made. That's a 6.43 ERA in the first inning.

His career ERA in the first inning before 2010 was 5.02, so it's always been an issue.

On Friday, Blanton allowed four hits and another first-inning run. He retired the leadoff batter Jose Tabata on a grounder to short. Then he allowed a double to Pedro Ciriaco and three straight singles to right. The damage would have been worse had Wilson Valdez in right field not thrown out Neil Walker, who was trying to go from first to third on one of those singles.

"It was a broken bat and two jam jobs," Blanton said. "Not much you can do about that. You make a pitch and he jams it into the hole. That was today. Last year was last year. It was coincidence."

And last year, Blanton was slated to be the Phillies' third starter. Now, if he can just keep pace with the rest of the rotation, the Phillies will be happy.


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/magelb

 

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