Blanton holds out hope in a lost season

It's been a frustrating year for Joe Blanton, who hasn't pitched since May because of a mysterious elbow injury.
It's been a frustrating year for Joe Blanton, who hasn't pitched since May because of a mysterious elbow injury. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 21, 2011

Joe Blanton was like a fifth Beatle at the made-for-TV Four Aces news conference down in Clearwater in mid-February, and a mysterious elbow injury that has limited him to six starts this season has only accentuated his forgotten status.

As the Phillies have soared toward a franchise record for regular-season wins behind the best pitching staff in baseball, Blanton has spent two additional months in Clearwater dealing with the first arm ailment of his life.

Even now, more than two months into his second stint of the season on the disabled list, Blanton is not exactly sure what is wrong with his elbow.

Consider this disjointed answer to a simple question about the status of his elbow: "I mean, it's, I don't, I think now [laughter], tough question."

Closer Ryan Madson, seated next to Blanton in the Phillies clubhouse, laughed as he listened to his teammate stumble.

"It shouldn't be a tough [question]," Blanton said. "I think it is bone-related, but I'm not sure if that's 100 percent what it is. They're pretty sure it's bone-related as far as I know, and if something has to be done they'll go in with a scope and then see what it is and take it from there."

Blanton is baffled as to why even now he has some discomfort in his elbow, but he is holding out hope that he can avoid surgery and pitch out of the bullpen when rosters expand in September.

Predictably, the one word he'd use to sum up his 2011 season is frustration.

"Not being able to pitch all year has been the most frustrating thing and then the process of not being able to figure out what's wrong, that's frustrating," he said. "Then you feel like you're starting to come back and feeling good and then you have to start all over again. That was frustrating. Then you think there's a chance to start this year and then there's not a chance to start. It's a combination of all those things."

Blanton was happy Thursday night simply because he was going on the three-game road trip to Washington with his teammates. He had not been on the road with the team since the middle of May, when he made his last start of the season, in Atlanta.

The two additional months in Clearwater trying to rehabilitate what the team has called inflammation and a medial impingement have worn on him.

"It really turns into a little bit of a roller coaster down there," Blanton said. "Honestly, when you first get down there, you're like, 'All right, I know I'm going to be on the DL for an extended period of time, so let's use this to my advantage.' I got in great shape. I was working on my explosiveness and trying to get my body into the best shape I've ever been in.

"And then I had the flare-up and that's when the frustration kicks in. You feel like you're going through the same thing every day. You're not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. You don't want to be down there anymore. You really don't see a lot of the games and you become distant from everything that is going on."

A sliver of light exists right now.

"I'm playing catch," Blanton said. "I threw off flat ground [Wednesday], which isn't really much different than playing catch, but it's a high-intensity catch. I'm not just lobbing the ball. I'm 150 to 180 feet and trying to keep it on a line. There is good intensity to that and a good amount of throws. I've been doing that for a couple weeks.

"I still feel [discomfort] a little bit, but it's not like it was. I'm at a point where I have to keep pushing it a little harder every day or every other day, and it's staying about the same. I can manage the way it is right now as far as being able to pitch. I just hope it keeps staying the way it is or maybe it backs off once in a while because maybe that means I'm getting better."

Even though Blanton was on the dais in Clearwater for the Four Aces news conference and has mostly been on the disabled list in Clearwater since then, he said it has still been fun to follow the progress of his teammates.

"I'm really happy for these guys because they've come out and lived up to every expectation that was thrown up on them and possibly even exceeded those expectations," Blanton said. "When I've actually been here, it has been fun to watch them."

Blanton is also impressed but not necessarily surprised by rookie Vance Worley, the man who has emerged as the fifth ace in the rotation.

"Rookies aren't supposed to come out and throw the way he has, but at the same time we saw glimpses of what he was capable of doing last year, so it doesn't really surprise you," Blanton said. "He has a great head on his shoulders and he thinks the game out. He takes a great physical and mental approach to the game, which is great to see from a guy his age. Plus, he has really good stuff, he locates it, and he's got a great competitiveness, too."

There is, of course, no room at the Rotation Inn in Philadelphia right now, but Blanton's future health still has to be a concern for the Phillies. They owe him $8.5 million next season and it's quite possible they'll want him to replace Roy Oswalt in the rotation, especially if they're going to re-sign potential free agents Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Madson.

Before this lost season is over, Blanton would at least like to convince the Phillies that he'll be healthy enough to fill that role.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com

or @brookob on Twitter.

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