Reinvented as a dominant reliever, Joe Blanton enjoying his 'second career'

Reinvented as a dominant reliever, Joe Blanton enjoying his 'second career'

It's been eight years. 

Eight years since the Phillies made an underrated deadline trade to acquire 27-year-old Joe Blanton from the Oakland A's. Blanton went 4-0 with the Phils, won a title, won a game in that 2008 World Series and also homered. It was a magical year for him.

Two years ago, Blanton thought his playing days were over. He had bottomed out in 2013 with the Angels, going 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA. The next year, he was released in spring training. He latched on with the A's for a second stint but hung up his cleats after two starts in Triple A. At that time, he was at peace with ending a 10-year big-league career. 

One successful comeback and two years later, Blanton, now a Dodgers reliever, returned to Citizens Bank Park for the first time as a visiting player.

"I went to Oakland and was in the minor leagues in Sacramento for two starts (in 2014) and I just decided I wasn't performing the way I needed to," Blanton, now 35, said prior to Thursday's game. "Being sent down for the first time, my family wasn't there, three little kids at home, I just felt like it wasn't for me anymore. 

"When I made the decision to come back I felt like I could do it, but at the same time I knew it was a long way away. It was one more try. I don't want to say for closure because I didn't really need it, I was fine with who I was. But I wanted to give it one more try and if it didn't work, it didn't work."

It did work. 

Blanton has resurrected his career, reinventing himself not just as a bullpen arm, but as one of the game's best relievers. His opponents have hit .167 this season. He has a 0.89 WHIP in 61 innings. His swinging strike rate is 14.2 percent, well above the MLB average of 10 percent.

Since joining the Pirates in a midseason trade last year, Blanton has posted a 2.18 ERA in 78 relief appearances with 98 strikeouts and 28 walks in 95⅓ innings.

He's a different guy. He's slimmer, going from 252 pounds all the way down to 205 at one point. He has more velocity and he throws more breaking balls. Blanton's average fastball velocity during his days with the Phillies was in the 89 mph range. This season, it's a career-high 91.2 mph. 

"I think earlier in my career if I was in the bullpen I probably would have thrown harder," Blanton said. "Out of the bullpen you get matched up more than as a starter. If you want to compare starting vs. relieving, starting you have to face the whole lineup — whether you match up well or not, you have to start on your day. You have to give and take a little more as a starter, you have to keep track of your pitch count, maybe give up a few more hits. 

"Now I only have to face a guy once a game usually. I have a starter's repertoire in the bullpen. Most guys have maybe one or two pitches. So I can kind of go with everything instead of as a starter trying to hold your slider back until the later innings or maybe not use it as much. You're able to do that. As a starter you have to establish your fastball. Out of the bullpen you don't have to do that as much."

On Wednesday, Blanton, in his first game at Citizens Bank Park as a non-Phillie, struck out Aaron Altherr on a tight, sharp slider. The Phillies knew to expect breaking balls from him. Blanton has thrown his slider 38 percent of the time this season, his fastball 31 percent and his curveball 20 percent. That's 58 percent sliders and curveballs, more than double the frequency of his previous career-high usage of those two pitches. It's made his entire repertoire better, including a fastball that used to get hit out of the ballpark too often.

When Blanton recorded two outs to end the seventh inning Wednesday and again Thursday, there wasn't nearly as much fanfare for the former Phillie as there was earlier in the week for Chase Utley. But these fans don't forget his contributions in 2008 and 2009 (12-8, 4.05 ERA), nor does he.

"It was pretty cool," Blanton said. "Once you're out there, it's just pitching. But it definitely felt familiar from being out there so many times. You know the environment. I think the first time you step on the field is pretty cool. Thinking back, winning the World Series, all the good players I played with here."

That stage of Blanton's career is over. So are his days as a starter. Unlike most starting pitchers who are moved to the bullpen, Blanton doesn't maintain the desire to pitch every fifth day. He's having success in this role and it's where he wants to stay.

"I think I spent my time as a starter. I think I've been there, done that," Blanton said. "There were points last year when I thought I could still start and still kind of wanted to do it. But I think more toward the end of the year and then definitely through this year, I realized that's a thing of the past. I had my time starting. Now it's kind of my second career and I've really enjoyed it. 

"I'm proud of what I did [starting]. A lot of people had better careers and a lot of people had worse careers. But I'm proud of what I did, I did it for a long time. I'm happy with where I'm at right now.

"Who knows how long this road will last, that's kind of the mentality I've taken — every game could be your last. I tried to tell myself all of last year and as much as I can this year to just enjoy every moment because you don't know when it's gonna be your last. I already thought I had my last moment and didn't."

Nationals 2, Phillies 0: Max Scherzer outduels Jake Arrieta as Phillies lose nightcap of doubleheader

Nationals 2, Phillies 0: Max Scherzer outduels Jake Arrieta as Phillies lose nightcap of doubleheader

Updated: 11:19 p.m.


Two runs in 18 innings didn’t cut it for the Phillies Wednesday in Washington, D.C. 

The Phils fell to the Nationals in the second game of their doubleheader, 2-0. They lost in the afternoon, 6-2 (see observations)

Brian Dozier crushed a 3-2 sinker from Jake Arrieta that split the plate over the left-field wall in the second inning to give the Nationals the lead. The only other hit Arrieta allowed in his six innings was a fourth-inning single by Adam Eaton.

Victor Robles added an insurance run in the eighth inning with a homer off Pat Neshek.

Max Scherzer outdueled Arrieta in a contest between former Cy Young Award winners, throwing seven scoreless innings and recording 10 strikeouts.

The Phillies are 39-34, four games behind the Braves in the NL East. 

Quite a sight 

Scherzer started despite breaking his nose in batting practice Tuesday, when he bunted a foul ball against his face.

He took the mound looking like he’d already been through a fight or two, with a dark bruise encircling his right eye. 

Sluggish start

Jean Segura led off with a single that could have been a double had he run hard out of the box. Juan Soto dove and failed to catch Segura’s bloop to shallow left field, but Segura settled for a single despite the ball ending up behind Soto. Segura was stranded on third base when Scherzer struck out Rhys Hoskins looking on a 3-2 breaking ball to end the inning.

It was a missed opportunity for the Phillies’ offense against Scherzer, who’s allowed 10 first-inning runs in 16 starts this season and pitched like the three-time Cy Young Award winner he is once he escaped the early trouble. 

Arrieta’s night 

Outside of his lapse to Dozier, Arrieta was excellent. 

He induced just one swinging strike on 48 sinkers but spotted the pitch well down in the zone. Ten of Arrieta’s 18 outs came via the ground ball. 

Manager Gabe Kapler elected to pinch-hit for Arrieta in the top of the seventh, sending J.T. Realmuto to the plate with two outs and Cesar Hernandez on second base. Realmuto struck out swinging.

Tip of the cap 

Like Arrieta, Scherzer pitched very, very well. His electric stuff helped him power through the Phillies’ best threat of the night.

He worked around Hernandez’s leadoff double in the seventh by getting Brad Miller to swing through a 97.5 mph, 3-2 fastball, striking out Andrew Knapp on a 96.7 fastball and baffling Realmuto with a wipeout slider on his 117th and final pitch of the night. 

A nightmare return

Neshek's first game back from the injured list couldn't have gone much worse. After serving up a one-out home run to Robles, Neshek got Kurt Suzuki to fly out to left field. He then grimaced following a 1-0 sinker to Trea Turner that missed outside. Neshek left the game with a limp.

Kapler told reporters after the game that Neshek has a left hamstring strain and will "likely" go on the IL again.

Seeing the ball well … just not hitting it 

Bryce Harper was hitless in the doubleheader, though he did walk four times. He saw 16 pitches in three plate appearances against Scherzer. 

Harper’s struggles against the fastball continued as he swung through or fouled off four heaters in the heart of the zone. 

Still no sign of Franco 

Maikel Franco started neither game of the doubleheader. Scott Kingery played third base in the afternoon, Miller in the nightcap. In June, Franco is hitting .143 (4 for 28). His last multi-hit game was on May 13, and it appears he’s no longer a regular option for Kapler.

Up next

The Phillies wrap up their series against the Nationals Thursday night (7:05 p.m./NBCSP).

They begin a seven-game homestand Friday with the first matchup of a three-game set vs. the last-place Marlins. 

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Nationals 6, Phillies 2: Bats go silent in first game of doubleheader

Nationals 6, Phillies 2: Bats go silent in first game of doubleheader


After two straight nights of rainouts, the Phillies were well-rested heading into the first game of a doubleheader against the Nationals. 

Didn’t help. They got stuck in the mud. 

The Phillies lost 6-2 this afternoon and will now try to even the series at a game apiece in a few hours when they send Jake Arrieta to the mound. 

Zach Eflin gave the Phillies six innings and gave up just two earned runs, but the bats didn’t back him up again. Eflin now has a 6-7 record on the season and the Phillies have scored a total of 11 runs (an average of just 1.57 runs per game) in his seven losses. 

Any chance of a Phillies’ comeback was ruined in the bottom of the eighth inning, when the Nationals added another three insurance runs against Cole Irvin. First, Brian Dozier hit a two-run shot and then Gerardo Parra added a solo homer. The Phils added a run in the top of the ninth, but too little, too late. 

Oh well. Time to get ready for tonight’s game in just a few hours. 

At least he hustles

In the top of the sixth inning, Bryce Harper tried to generate a little offense after a walk to lead off the inning. He tried to make it to third on a Scott Kingery single but was gunned out by Parra at third base for the first out of the inning. 

After Harper was thrown out, Rhys Hoskins singled. At worst, the Phillies would have had bases loaded, no outs for J.T. Realmuto. Instead, Realmuto grounded into a fielder’s choice and Sean Rodriguez grounded out to end the top of the frame. 

The Phillies lost their chance to tie the ballgame or take a lead and Washington added a run in the bottom of the inning. 

Fit for a King(ery)

Scott Kingery stayed hot from the plate on Wednesday. He homered on a 1-2 count in the top of the first inning for his ninth bomb of the season. He came into the day batting .344 and had another multi-hit game, his third in four games. 

Kingery did have a throwing error in the first inning that led to the unearned run the Nats scored in the bottom of the first inning. 

Eflin’s day  

Eflin pitched well again today, but the Phillies just didn’t give him enough support, which has been all too common this season. He went 6 innings, gave up 3 runs (2 earned) on 5 hits, with 3 walks and 7 Ks. He’s gotten losses in each of his last two starts after giving up just two earned runs in each. 

Up next 

After rainouts for a couple straight days, the Phillies have another game tonight with first pitch in Washington at 7:05 p.m. Jake Arrieta (6-5, 4.31 ERA) will take the mound for the Phillies in the second game. He’ll be opposed by Max Scherzer (5-5, 2.81), who actually broke his nose during a freak batting incident yesterday.

After today, the Phillies are scheduled to have one more game in Washington (a 7:05 start time) on Thursday, before getting out of town and hopefully away from soggy weather. They’ll start a three-game home series against the Marlins on Friday and then welcome the Mets to town for four starting Monday. 

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