Tuesday, February 9, 2016

That other guy

SAN FRANCISCO -- So it's come to this. Joe Blanton, the fourth member of a pitching rotation that features a Big Three, is pitching in the season's most important game.

That other guy

Joe Blanton will start Game 4 of the NLCS for the Phillies tonight. He has not pitched in a game since Oct. 3. (Michael Bryant / Staff File Photo)
Joe Blanton will start Game 4 of the NLCS for the Phillies tonight. He has not pitched in a game since Oct. 3. (Michael Bryant / Staff File Photo)

SAN FRANCISCO -- So it's come to this. Joe Blanton, the fourth member of a pitching rotation that features a Big Three, is pitching in the season's most important game.

I'm assuming much of the debate back home today as been about starting Blanton over Roy Halladay. As I wrote for Tuesday's paper, the other scenario was an enticing one. Halladay and Roy Oswalt have had success pitching on short rest. Cole Hamels has never done it, but if there ever was a time to do it, it's now.

Instead, the Phillies chose Blanton.

"I think it's the best way to go," pitching coach Rich Dubee said.

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Head to Head: NLCS Game 4, 7:57 p.m.

The pitching coach made it clear in the days leading up to Game 4 that if he were to skip Blanton, he would bring every starter back on short rest. It was all or nothing.

The Phillies decided that wasn't in their best interest. If Blanton has to make one start in this series, he will make it now. That makes sense.

For those in the camp saying Halladay should start Game 4 and Blanton could pitch later in the series, that's just downright silly. If the Phillies lose Game 4, yes, they are on the brink of elimination. But Game 4 is less important than a Game 5 or Game 6, which Blanton could have been bumped back to pitch in.

"What's the difference? You've got to win four to win the series," Dubee said. "I know what we've got in Joe Blanton. He's a good pitcher. The guy's pitched very well in the second half. He's pitched well against San Francisco this year."

So with that, a primer to a Joe Blanton start...

Beware the first inning.

In 28 starts this season, Blanton allowed 20 first-inning runs. That's a first-inning ERA of 6.43. During the season, Blanton said no one thing contributed to the rough starts. But he did admit to failing to make adjustments quick enough at times.

When Blanton steps on the mound at AT&T Park, he will have gone 22 days without starting a game. His last outing was against his own team, eight days ago in a simulated game at Citizens Bank Park.

It all adds up to a troublesome formula for the first inning. If Blanton isn't sharp early and fails to make adjustments like he has in the past, the Phillies could find themselves in a quick hole. And for an offense that has done nothing, that could be a big issue.

You know, the Giants haven't hit the cover off the ball either.

Did you know? The Phillies (.194) have a better batting average in this series than the Giants (.189). OK, a lot of it came in Game 2, when the Phillies scored six runs, but really, San Francisco has simply managed hits at key times while the Phillies haven't.

And as a colleague pointed out Tuesday, the Giants are batting Pat Burrell cleanup after all. This is a lineup Blanton can succeed against. In his only start against the Giants this year, Blanton allowed two runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings of an 8-2 win.

The Giants with at least 10 at-bats against Blanton in their careers have not fared well for the most part.

Aubrey Huff: 4 for 20, 2 K
Juan Uribe: 1 for 11, 3 K
Pat Burrell: 3 for 12, 3 HR, 5 K
Cody Ross: 3 for 11, 1 HR, 6 K

The Burrell matchup will be interesting. As usual, feast or famine.

He's pitched in Game 4s before.

And he hasn't done too badly. In five career Game 4 starts, Blanton has a 4.03 ERA. His strikeout to walk ratio is 27 to 10. Of the five Game 4s he has started, the Phillies have won four -- the lone exception being Game 4 of the 2009 World Series.

Last season, in a similar situation to this one, Blanton pitched Game 4 of the NLCS. Against the Dodgers, he pitched six innings, allowed four runs (three earned) and walked two. The Phillies won, 5-4, and won the series the next night.

He actually wasn't bad down the stretch.

Blanton's season numbers were disappointing overall. He finished the season with a 4.82 ERA, his highest since 2006. His strikeouts were down and his hits were way up.

But after the all-star break, Blanton had a 3.33 ERA in 15 starts. He struck out 7.9 batters per nine innings during that stretch. In 13 of the 15 starts he pitched at least six innings.

Given that, the bullpen is available.

Charlie Manuel said Tuesday he would be happy if Blanton could give him five innings. The Phillies won't push their luck with Blanton, whose numbers after the fifth inning are somewhat scary (35 ER in 36 1/3 innings from the sixth inning on).

Only Jose Contreras was used in relief during Game 3. He pitched two scoreless innings, needing 24 pitches to do it. Contreras is likely available for Game 4, but is probably further down the list.

Manuel didn't have to use Chad Durbin in Game 3 and his ideal plan for Game 4 likely involves the righthander in some capacity.

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