Blanton and Phillies handle the Marlins

Posted: April 12, 2012

Joe Blanton sat in on the initial news conference and posed for all the photo shoots last year in spring training, but he was no more a fifth ace than Peter Best was a fifth member of the Beatles.

And that was before his elbow started barking with a mysterious pain.

By the end of the season, Blanton was nothing more than a forgotten man stuck in Clearwater rehabilitating an injury that just would not seem to go away. He made a few September relief appearances and even got into a postseason game. But the 2011 season did not go anything close to the way he had envisioned.

So Blanton, even after a brief relief appearance resulted in a loss last week at Pittsburgh, was a bit of a curiosity as he stepped to the mound Thursday night for his first start since May 14 of last season at Atlanta.

"I feel like he's ready," manager Charlie Manuel said before the game. "He went through spring training and he was fine. He's ready to pitch."

On this night, Blanton was not just ready to pitch, he was ready to dominate like one of the aces on the cover of last year's Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview edition. His reward was a 3-1 victory over the Miami Marlins that allowed the Phillies to take the three-game series and even their record at 3-3.

"Fastball command and defense," were the two things Blanton said allowed him to hold a dangerous Marlins' lineup to three hits and a single run over seven innings. "I was able to keep my fastball down, and the defense was phenomenal."

Second baseman Freddy Galvis, a hero with his bat Wednesday, saved one run with a third-inning diving stop and another with a diving catch off Giancarlo Stanton's bat in the sixth.

"When you have that good of a defense, it gives you a lot of confidence on the mound," Blanton said. "It gives you the confidence to go out and attack the strike zone and really force ground balls and force the action to get the hitters swinging."

As good as Galvis' defense was, Blanton's work on the mound was even better. In fact, other than Roy Halladay's opening-day gem when he allowed just two hits in eight shutout innings at Pittsburgh, this was probably the best performance by a Phillies starting pitcher so far this season.

It was certainly a nice moment for a guy who often is mentioned in trade rumors but seldom thought of by people outside the Phillies' clubhouse as a quality pitcher.

"It was definitely frustrating," Blanton said of his 2011 season. "I wouldn't say I was invisible, but you didn't really feel like a part of the team. It was a long road, but hopefully in the future I'll be all the better for it."

The bullpen duo of Chad Qualls and Jonathan Papelbon finished off the Marlins by pitching scoreless eighth and ninth innings.

As much angst as a lack of offense created during the first week of this 2012 season, the pitching, especially the starters, has been even better than advertised. After six games, the rotation, even without Roy Oswalt, has a 1.60 ERA. Cole Hamels is the only pitcher to allow more than one run in a start.

The Phillies scratched out three runs against lefthander Mark Buehrle, who was making just his second start for the Marlins after 13 seasons with the Chicago White Sox. Buehrle does not throw hard, but he has a variety of pitches that can frustrate hitters.

He did exactly that for the first three innings as he retired nine straight to open the game.

But after falling behind 0-2 in the count, leadoff man Shane Victorino got a curveball down and jacked it out of the ballpark for his first home run of the season.

John Mayberry Jr. added a clutch RBI single on a first-pitch fastball later in the inning with two outs, and Ty Wigginton launched his first home run in a Phillies uniform to open the seventh.

"The second time around we started sitting on soft stuff and looking for stuff offspeed," Manuel said. "That's how they pitch us. We did a pretty good job adjusting . . . against a pretty good pitcher."

They adjusted well enough for three runs and the way the rotation is pitching and the defense is playing, that will win a lot of games even with an offense that still has a lot of people worried.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at bbrokover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.

 

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