With Blanton, Phils Have Limited Options

With Blanton, Phils Have Limited Options

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.

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

BOX SCORE

The Phillies have scored just two runs in 13 innings against a pair of rookie starting pitchers and the eventual outcome has been two losses to the Colorado Rockies the last couple of nights. The latest was an 8-2 setback on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). That followed an 8-1 loss on Monday night.

What's happening right now at Citizens Bank Park is ugly. The Phillies are in the midst of a freefall that has seen them lose 19 of their last 23 games. They have been outscored 134-91 over that span.

Now, before we completely lose perspective here, the Phillies remain a building team and they were not expected to contend this season. But they weren't supposed to be this bad, either, and right now they are embarrassingly bad at 15-28.

John Middleton, the team's fiery managing partner, watched several innings of Tuesday night's debacle sitting beside Andy MacPhail in the club president's box. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. Middleton is committed to a patient rebuild from the ground up, but he's also a man who has made it no secret that he likes to win a little. The show that the Phillies are putting on out on the field these days can't sit well with him. Surely it's not sitting well with the fans. Tuesday night's attendance was just 17,109, the lowest of the season, and many in that group headed home after Gerardo Parra's sixth-inning homer gave the Rockies an 8-1 lead.

"We're just in a big rut right now," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis added that he couldn't remember going through anything this bad.

"We have to keep grinding," he said. "Keep grinding, man. It's pretty tough right now."

Tuesday night's loss offered a tale of two young pitchers. Zach Eflin, the Phillies' 23-year-old right-hander and a veteran of just 18 big-league starts, was hit hard. Meanwhile, German Marquez, the Rockies' 22-year-old rookie, was impressive. He held the Phillies to one run over six innings. He twice faced bases-loaded jams and gave up just one run when he walked a batter.

On Monday night, the Phils were held to one run over seven innings by another rookie, Jeff Hoffman.

Rookie pitchers are often good medicine for struggling teams.

"That's the way I look at it," Mackanin said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened.

"I know we're better than this. I think the team knows they're better than this. I can't fault the hustle. Someone might say there's no energy. Well, when you don't get any hits, there's no energy."

The Phillies have scored just three runs in the last three games.

The scarcity of runs gives the pitching very little room for error. But in this game, Eflin simply did not keep it close. He gave up 10 hits and eight runs over six innings of work. Phillies killer Charlie Blackmon torched Eflin for a pair of two-run homers and Parra got him for a solo shot.

"A poor outing," Mackanin said of Eflin's work. "He couldn't locate. The ball was up in the zone. He's struggling to keep the ball down.

"When he struck out Blackmon in the first inning, it was a two-seamer with great movement, I thought we're in for a good outing here. But then he couldn't keep the ball down. You have to pitch down or you're going to get hurt."

Eflin has given up 21 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts.

"It's frustrating, but it happens. It's baseball," he said. "There are going to be a lot of times in my career where I give up a lot of hits and a lot of runs. But I'm really not worried about it right now. I know that I'm going to continue to work hard and go out every fifth day and, you know, put up a line of winning baseball."

Blackmon has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. He has three multi-homer games in Philadelphia.

"He seems to like hitting here," Eflin said. "But I just have to execute pitches. There's no excuse. I just have to be on top of my game."

Right now, the Phillies are at the bottom of their game.

"We have to stay together as a team and keep fighting, try to get out of what's happening right now," Galvis said. "It's a really tough situation, but we have keep playing hard."

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators bounced back nicely two days after a blowout loss put them on the brink of elimination.

Anderson stopped 45 shots, Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and the Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 36-year-old Anderson was coming off a pair of rough outings, including Sunday when he was pulled after yielding four goals in Ottawa's 7-0 loss in Game 5 at Pittsburgh.

"You can't change what happens in the past," said Anderson, who has credited work with a sports psychologist early in his career for helping him manage the mental side of the game. "From that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one."

Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third. Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa.

It was quite a response after the drubbing in the previous game.

"I think the biggest message for us was if somebody told us back in training camp in September that we'd have an opportunity to win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final at home in front of our fans we would've taken it," Ryan said. "So let's not dwell, let's not kick ourselves and put our heads down. Let's embrace this opportunity to extend this for two more days together and go from there."

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.

"I thought we played a real good game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn't score tonight. The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we'll get the result."

Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.

Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start -- which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.

Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. It was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.

Anderson then stopped 22 of 23 shots in the second period.

"I think Anderson was the reason that they got this one, he played big for them," Murray said. "But in our room we just focus on what we need to do. We played really well, we just didn't get the bounces and weren't able to put one home."

Anderson's performance was a reminder for Senators coach Guy Boucher of why he took the job with Ottawa in the first place last May.

"I'll be honest with you, if I didn't have a No. 1 goalie, I didn't want the job," Boucher said. "I've lived it for quite a few years, and it's hell when you don't have it because everything you do turns to darkness, and there's nothing that really matters when you don't have a real No. 1 goaltender.

"It's like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it," Boucher added.

Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.

The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.

Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.

It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin -- three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr -- who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.

The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.

It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).