On July 18, 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies acquired a seemingly unassuming right-handed pitcher from the Oakland A’s for three prospects. The guy was toiling for an average team led by a general manager whose vocabulary lacks the word “no.”
On that day, Joe Blanton became a member of the Phillies rotation, and was looked at as nothing more than a back-end, fifth starter type. As Oakland’s opening day starter in 2008, Big Joe would come to Philly as a stitch meant to close the wound left by Adam Eaton and his abhorrent track record. Little did Phillies fans know, that a year later, Joe Blanton would be an integral part of another championship run.
Now 33 starts into his tenure with the club, Blanton has been a pleasant surprise. Include the three splendid performances during the postseason run, and Blanton is even more revered. After a full season in the books, Philadelphia may have found themselves a small gem.
Blanton has pitched 196 innings in his 33 regular season starts, giving up 89 earned runs in the process. A four-ERA is a blessing when you consider what the alternative would have been (Adam Eaton, where art thou?). Last season, Blanton took the hill 13 times, but never really wowed anyone. He just went along, pitching to contact while trying his best to give the team a steady hand.
Move ahead to the playoffs, and Blanton was a man possessed. Posting a 3.18 ERA in three starts, including a six-inning, seven-strikeout beauty in the 10-2, Game 4 blowout over the Rays. It was then that we also learned Joe could swing a stick, as he blasted a home run, and earned a nickname.
In 2009, Blanton has found that consistency once again. After scuffling through the first two months, the Nashville native has been rocking along with relative ease. Since June 1, he has tossed nine quality starts over 11 games, lowering his ERA from 6.14 to a very respectable 4.02. In that time, Blanton has become an inning-eating machine as well, by going at least seven strong in five straight appearances.
Looking into the near future, Blanton will assuredly be in line for yet another raise. With the payroll distended to a new level already, plus, with the addition of Cliff Lee’s contract, will Blanton be around long-term? Can the Phillies afford a multi-year deal for Blanton with raises on the horizon for others? It’s a legit query that will be a hot topic soon, especially with up and coming arms like Kyle Drabek and Joe Savery scratching the surface.
On Saturday night, Tim Lincecum got the best of Big Joe by using his array of wizardry to stifle the Phillies bats. Although it shows as an “L” on paper, his performance spoke volumes. Cliff Lee he ain’t, but that’s the best part of it all: he knows he doesn’t have to be. So when he does go above and beyond, it’s all the more impressive.
Blanton realizes his duty is to go as deep into games as possible, keeping the relief corps fresh for the stretch run. He is accomplishing that modest goal, but with flying colors recently. Behind Lee, and Cole Hamels, Joe the Bat is persevering as Steady Joe. There is really nothing more anyone can ask for.