CLEARWATER, Fla. Joe Blanton has made 198 regular-season starts in the big leagues and six more in the postseason.
So youd figure that a spring-training start wouldnt quicken Blantons pulse a whole lot.
But this was different. After an elbow injury turned him into a spectator for most of the 2011 season, Blanton had some butterflies as he made his way in from the bullpen for his 2012 spring debut against the New York Yankees at sun-kissed Bright House Field on Monday.
I had a few jitters, but they kind of went away after the first hitter, the 31-year-old righthander said. Back at work again.
Back at the kind of work he wants to be doing.
Blanton did plenty of work last season, but most of it was rehabilitative in nature. He tweaked his elbow late in spring training and was out of the Phillies rotation by mid-May. As his teammates rolled toward a majors-best 102 wins, Blanton often felt like an outsider as he rehabbed and contemplated surgery. Eventually, he was diagnosed with an impingement, and surgery was not required. He made it back and pitched a little in September. This spring, he is healthy and feels as if he has a new lease on his career.
Blanton looked like a healthy pitcher Monday. He worked two scoreless innings in the Phils' 9-3 win over the Yankees, got five groundball outs and struck out a batter while allowing a pair singles. The groundballs were an indication that Blantons elbow was indeed feeling good. His best pitch is his sinker, and thats a pitch that requires good arm extension, or finish, as pitchers say. When a pitchers elbow hurts, he has difficulty finishing his pitches and those pitches will lack movement and life.
I feel like the ball is coming out well right now, Blanton said. I attribute it more to clean mechanics. When I got hurt, I focused on cleaning up my mechanics a lot. I think thats allowed me to get in front more. Naturally, thats going to make it jump a little more.
Cleaning up my mechanics took a lot of stress off my elbow. I got back to the way I used to throw. Consciously or unconsciously, I changed the way I threw a little bit and that gradually put more stress on my elbow. Now, Im good. Curveballs were what I was worried about and Ive been throwing them fine in my bullpens and I threw one today. Two outs nobody on, Hey, lets flip one and see what happens. It had really good break.
Im not hesitant to throw any pitch. Im not thinking, Whats this going to feel like if I really throw it? Im just out there working on being better, and thats huge in the spring.
There are a lot of eyes on Blanton this spring. He is penciled into one of the five starting spots in the rotation, but must show that hes healthy.
So far, so good.
Im sure people are watching, he said. I would be, too. I didnt pitch last year. I have to go out and prove Im going to stay healthy the whole year and not have any effects from last year. Im really, really confident that Im healthy. Id be shocked if it came back. I feel good.
Phillies officials arent the only ones watching Blanton. Its no secret that the Phillies have shopped Blanton in potential trades the last few years and opposing scouts will be watching him closely, just to see if he might be worth a deal later in the spring. Blanton, who will be a free agent at seasons end, makes 8.5 million this season. The Phils might be interested in moving that salary or at least some of it to gain some financial flexibility that might come in handy around the July trade deadline. The team has some starting pitching depth with Kyle Kendrick, Joel Pineiro and Dave Bush.
Then again, if Blanton keeps throwing well, maybe the Phillies will hang on to him.
Its nice to have choices.
And for Joe Blanton, its nice to be healthy.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at email@example.com.