Phillies Notes: Blanton giving up too many long balls

Posted: June 23, 2012

In his last 22 2/3 innings of work, Joe Blanton has struck out 20 batters while walking just one, a ratio that is the definition of ideal for a major-league pitcher.

Opponents are hitting just .227 against the Phillies righthander during that span. The problem? The pitches that make it into play are traveling a long way, prompting speculation that he is tipping his pitches.

Thursday, Blanton said he doesn't think that is the case.

"I feel like I wouldn't be getting strikeouts and not walking guys if I was tipping pitches," said the 31-year-old veteran, who entered Thursday night having allowed more home runs than any other pitcher in the National League.

But Blanton is not the only Phillies starter who has allowed a disconcerting number of home runs this season. In fact, before Thursday's games, the rotation had allowed the second-highest total in the league even though it was striking out batters at the second-highest rate and walking them at the lowest rate in the league.

One of the big factors in Cole Hamels' career year in 2011 was his ability to limit home runs. In his first five years in the majors, the lefthander allowed an average of 1.2 homers per nine innings. In 2011, that rate dropped to 0.8 per nine, thanks in large part to a ground-ball rate that jumped from 0.73 per fly ball in his first five years to 1.14 last year. This year, Hamels is allowing 0.73 ground balls per fly ball and 1.0 homers per nine innings.

Likewise, Blanton's ground-ball rate has dropped as his home-run total has risen. In his first eight games of the season, Blanton allowed just two homers in 48 2/3 innings with a 0.90 ground-ball rate. In his last seven games, he has allowed 15 home runs in 42 1/3 innings with a 0.70 ground-ball rate.

"Too many elevated pitches," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "I think there's too many mistakes, too many elevated mistakes, too many fly balls vs. ground balls."

For the Phillies to put together the stretch they need to get back into the playoff race, the entire rotation will have to improve. Blanton believes that he is on his way. He thought he threw the ball poorly during a four-start stretch in late May and early June in which he allowed 25 runs in 192/3 innings against the Red Sox, Cardinals, Mets, and Marlins. But he has felt improvement in his last three starts, despite allowing at least five runs in two of them.

"That was three really bad ones in a row where I couldn't figure it out," Blanton said.

The final step, he said, is either eliminating the mistakes or getting away with them.

"Part of it is execution, yes," Blanton said. "And part of it is luck."

Halladay encouraged

Righthander Roy Halladay, sidelined since May 27 by a muscle strain behind his right shoulder, threw off flat ground from 90 feet for the first time.

"I'm really encouraged," said Halladay, who was expected to miss six to eight weeks. "I'm trying to stay the course and be patient, but it's getting hard. I think the plan is to get to 120 feet next week and then reevaluate."

Utley update

Chase Utley was 0 for 3 with a strikeout while batting third as the designated hitter for the single-A Clearwater Threshers on Thursday night. Utley, who is rehabilitating sore knees, was hit by a pitch in his first at-bat. His average dropped to .192.

Two nods to Futures

Lisalverto Bonilla and Julio Rodriguez will represent the Phillies in the Futures Game in Kansas City. They are pitchers on the World roster for the July 8 game against the United States that precedes the major-league All-Star Game.

Bonilla, who turned 22 Monday, opened the season with single-A Clearwater and went 1-1 with a 1.35 ERA in 10 appearances. Since being promoted to double-A Reading, he is 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 15 relief appearances. The Dominican Republic native signed with the team in 2008.

Rodriguez, 21, was an eighth-round draft choice in 2008. He went 16-7 with a 2.76 ERA at Clearwater last season and is 4-1 with a 2.81 ERA in 13 starts at Reading this season. Batters are hitting .220 against him, the fourth-lowest average in the Eastern League.

Extra bases

Players were spotted wearing "Vote Chooch" T-shirts before the game. Catcher Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz leads all NL catchers in batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS, and is tied for the lead in home runs and on-base percentage, yet he ranks only third in fan voting for the All-Star Game.


 

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