Last night, Joe Blanton turned in his most impressive start in a Phillie uniform. For seven innings he worked the plate like a madman, baffling the Marlins into 11 strikeouts, a career high. He walked into a small bit of trouble, but each time he worked out of it impressively.
Seventy-two of Blanton’s 114 pitches were strikes. That’s a good ratio, especially for a pitcher who tries to use all corners and sides to work hitters into bad outs. Sifting through pitch data, you could see why hitters were having so much trouble:
More late sliders and sinkers. Normally Blanton throws 25 percent or fewer sliders in his starts, and almost never throws the sinker. But last night he ramped up the sliders late in the game, adding many more sinkers than usual. Conversely, he threw fewer changeups (about 5 percent).
The vertical and horizontal movements of his pitches all increased. On July 3, 2007, Blanton had maybe the best outing of his career, a complete game against Toronto. In that game, all of Blanton’s pitches moved astoundingly about the zone. While his vertical movement was strong, his slider broke far off the plate throughout the game. His curveball even had radical horizontal movement. Last night, all of his pitches moved across the zone in the same pattern.
Low pitches. Blanton stayed on the lower half of the zone all night. His fastball, as predicted, was on point thanks to follow-through. That makes the sinker better, and by throwing it more often, it resulted in more confusion-inducing swings low in the zone. In short, Blanton’s gameplan was down, down, down, and he was good, good, good.
If Blanton can continue working the zone this way, it’s absolutely possible he turns into the solid ground-ball pitcher we hoped he could become. An ERA close to 3.50 isn’t out of the question, either.