With Blanton, Phils Have Limited Options

With Blanton, Phils Have Limited Options
June 3, 2012, 9:13 pm

I don't dislike Joe Blanton, and I don't begrudge the Phillies for the three-year, $24 million contract they gave him after he helped them to reach consecutive World Series, winning one. That being said, this is as bad as he's pitched for as lengthy a stretch -- without explanation -- since coming over from Oakland for prospects in 2008.

Oh, 2010 was bad. It took him the balance of the season just to lower a plus-7.00 ERA in June to sub-5.00 before the year was out, but he eventually did it, and anyway, explanation: he started the campaign on the DL. Why Heavy B is casually handing out home runs like they were cookies or after-dinner mints is a bit of a mystery in 2012.

Especially given how things began. Four outings ago, Blanton was cruising, easily off to his best start with the Phillies. He was 4-3, his ERA a tidy 2.96, and looking as if he might even be deadline trade bait. Nothing grand in return, mind you, but maybe Blanton could at least net a dependable arm for the bullpen assuming the rest of the staff was healthy.

Who knows, perhaps things will turn around for Big Joe, and a fringe team will take a chance on him anyway knowing he can serve as a three or a four for a championship run, just hoping a change of scenery will turn his luck around. Then again, whether the Phillies are really in any position to consider such a move has become something of an issue on to itself.

The most obvious hurdle is the fact that the rotation has seen better days. Vance Worley comes back from the DL tonight, but Roy Halladay takes his place, and this time we're talking months, not weeks. Part of any Blanton deal hinged on the idea Kyle Kendrick could step into the role of the fifth starter, but that already happens to be the case for the near future.

As president of the KK fan club, I realize there weren't necessarily a ton of people on board with that blueprint, but should this squad sneak into the playoffs, they only need four pitchers. When you break it down, they only require that fifth starter's services roughly 10 times over the final two months of the season anyway. Unfortunately, the dirty truth is the Phillies all of a sudden are one injury away to their starters from finding themselves in some fairly dire straits.

Maybe not even an injury. See, the reason we bring all this to your attention is because, with these kinds of performances, you sort of have to wonder how much longer this team relies on Blanton at all. The man has an earned run average of 10.98 in his last four games. Of course you give him another start, or two, or three... but how long can a ball club that's supposedly in playoff contention live with complete ineffectiveness every fifth day?

Roy Oswalt signed with the Texas Rangers last week -- there goes that. Not sure there are any answers in the farm system either. From following our new Pharm Watch feature, I thought a kid like Austin Hyatt might have a chance to step in, but I was sorry to learn he's struggled and was recently demoted to Reading. Tyler Cloyd has been the best guy at Triple A, but the 25-year-old righty has looked human recently (5.09 ERA in last three starts). Apparently he's not ready, and after that, it's Scott Elarton, who last pitched in the Majors in '08.

So in short, banishing Blanton to the bullpen and giving some kid a chance doesn't appear to be much of an option right now, unless they're really going to reach. It seems Joe Blanton, sieve, is going to have every opportunity to pitch his way out of this, and that sounds like bad news for the Phils.

Overreact much? Sure, we're essentially talking about four outings, prior to which Blanton was actually quite stellar. With an adjustment or two, he could be right back on track, eating innings, being Joe Blanton. That would be enough for now.

If it doesn't happen, it's hard to say where the Fightins go from here. Maybe Doc gets healthy, the rest of the staff stays intact, and Kendirck then takes Blanton's place full time. Unfortunately, each and every game is so important at the moment, and furthermore, Halladay coming back appears to be a ways off. Until then, I guess the Phillies are just gonna have to go back to being like every other team in MLB, with some woeful fifth starter whose occasional win feels like a minor miracle.

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