It didnt look much different than the past three outings, but believe it or not, Joe Blanton was encouraged by his performance in the Phillies 5-1 loss to the Marlins on Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. Sure, it was the fourth straight game in which he allowed at least five, but for six innings he was in control.
Save for a pair of solo homers, of course.
My stuff was a little crisper, Blanton said. For the most part I didnt leave so many balls up in the zone and definitely not out in the middle of the plate.
In the end, though, the game still amounted to another loss as the Phillies (28-27) remained in last place and 3 games off the pace in the NL East (see Instant Replay). Meanwhile, with Roy Halladay on the disabled list and Cliff Lee working his way back to form after his stint on the DL, Blanton is going to get his chances to take turns in the rotation.
Following Sundays effort, Blanton feels as if thats a good thing.
You never want to give up five runs, but I feel like it was a huge improvement from the last two or three times, Blanton said. Even though the results werent much better, I felt like its a lot better.
A consistent aspect of Blanton's recent outings has been the big right-handers propensity to allow homers. In Sundays defeat, Blanton gave up a pair of homers, including his second game in a row of surrendering one to the opposing pitcher. This time it was Carlos Zambrano who went deep, parking a high fastball deep into the seats in left-center.
Hanley Ramirez belted a 0-2 pitch out for a homer to lead off the fourth. That was the 10th long ball Blanton has allowed in his last four starts. He also has allowed 24 earned runs in 19 23 innings for a 10.98 ERA over that span. This comes after he went 4-2 with a 2.81 ERA and just two homers allowed in his first seven starts.
The difference in the homers allowed is alarming, though Blanton kind of chalked up the bombs he allowed in Sundays defeat as luck.
Today I cant attribute it to anything. Both pitches were balls and out of the zone, he said. Previous to today it was just missing out over the plate in the upper part of the strike zone.
The homers from Zambrano and Ramirez were all the Marlins needed to win the game and slide into a virtual tie with the Nationals for first place in the NL East. By spotting his fastball, the Marlins righty held the Phillies to two hits into the eighth inning before they pieced together a pair of hits for a run.
All told, Zambrano gave up a run on four hits with a walk and seven strikeouts.
He chopped us up pretty good today, said Juan Pierre, who went 3 for 4. We could never get any pressure on him. He just did a great job.
Nevertheless, the Phillies had plenty of chances to score. Pierre picked up three hits, including a swinging-bunt double with one out in the sixth and trailing by just two runs. However, No. 3 and 4 hitters Hunter Pence and Hector Luna both struck out to end the threat.
There were other chances, too. In the second inning, Placido Polanco led off with a walk, but made it only as far as second base. The Phillies also had a chance in the ninth when they got back-to-back singles, but by then it was too late.
Given that the Phillies have been held to one run or less in 12 games and two runs or less in 19 games this season, late-inning rallies havent been the norm.
We havent come back to win any games, but hopefully well start, manager Charlie Manuel said. Can we come back? Yeah, we can comeback. We get down four, five, six runs, yeah, its tough for us to come back. It used to be a little easier because we could hit the ball out of the yard much more consistently and we had more guys who could hit the ball out of the yard.
Added Pierre: You just have to piece together some good at-bats. Weve had some games where we came back and you just have to stick with it.
Perhaps help could be on the way now that Chase Utley is headed for Clearwater as his comeback progresses (see story). However, Utley will not be in the lineup any time soon. Until then, the search for runs continues.
E-mail John R. Finger at email@example.com