PHILADELPHIA -- Joe Blanton is easy to miss, despite his size. That's just fine with the unassuming Kentuckyan. "I'm a fly-under-the-radar guy," he said. Maybe it's because he doesn't know any of his new teammates -- sure, he beat them last month in Oakland, something he said he now feels bad about -- but Blanton spent some of Saturday sitting quietly and reflecting.
"We used to walk in the clubhouse and go, 'Shut up, Joe,'" said Marlins catcher John Baker, who came up through the Minor Leagues with Blanton. "He would never say anything." Blanton's low-key profile was raised last week, when the Phillies made him their key midseason acquisition with the hope that he'll help them in a pennant race. He'll make his first start against the Mets in Shea Stadium. Perfect. "He [broke] three of my bats down as souvenirs," Jimmy Rollins said. "Hopefully he can do that against these guys. It's a good thing that he's fresh blood in this series, a guy they haven't seen. A lot of times the advantage goes to the pitcher." The Phillies hadn't seen Blanton for three years when he limited them to one run on June 24 at McAfee Coliseum. In case you didn't stay up late that night to watch him outduel Jamie Moyer, you're likely not sure what to expect. For help, Baker provides an informed scouting report. Baker and Blanton go back to 2002, the year both were drafted by Oakland, and played together till 2004. Blanton went in Round 1 and Baker three rounds later. It was a high-profile year, as that A's draft class -- which also included Nick Swisher, Mark Teahen and Jeremy Brown -- became prime subjects of Michael Lewis' book, "MoneyBall." "That was different," Blanton said. "It wasn't as much about me. It was more about Nick Swisher and Jeremy Brown. They were the main characters. It was an honor to be mentioned. Not everyone can say that. I'm a low-key guy, so I'd rather fly under the radar. I was glad not to be a main character." Blanton is happy to play a supporting role with his new team, which has aspirations of playing deep into October. Billed as a fierce competitor and innings-eater, the burly 6-foot-3, 255-pound right-hander can succeed by maintaining that pedigree.
"He's exactly the kind of pitcher they're looking for," Baker said. "He never wants to come out of a game. He's quiet in the clubhouse and on the mound, but has that competitive fire on the inside that they're going to appreciate."
As much as the Moneyball philosophy craves high on-base and slugging percentages for hitters, it equally despises pitchers who issue free passes. Like Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and many others before him, Blanton was schooled to retire a hitter in three or fewer pitches.
Blanton has pared some velocity off his fastball -- using his 95-mph heater on an as-needed basis -- freeing him to work the lower part of the plate and the corners. Staying around the dish induces more balls in play earlier in counts, which naturally progresses to fewer pitches thrown and the ability to work deeper in games, something which he's done since breaking into Oakland's rotation in 2005.
"[Throwing strikes] limits your walks, which limits the number of baserunners," Blanton said. "Attacking the zone makes hitters aggressive, so they're going to put the ball in play. You're not going to go out every start and allow one or two runs. You're going to have games where you give up four, six runs, but working like that allows you to help your team in some way even in those games by saving the bullpen, if that's needed."
Blanton also mastered a changeup while in Double-A. In his "second or third" start with Double-A Midland in 2003, he was ordered not to throw a slider or curveball for two starts. The organization wanted to challenge him to learn a changeup.
"I think the first start with just a fastball and changeup produced 13 punchouts," Baker said. "He developed it so fast."
"They wouldn't let me throw breaking pitches," Blanton said. "I just got called up to Double-A and was doing well without it and they knew I'd need it when I got further. They know if I was throwing fastballs, [Major League hitters] would be all over it. The changeup is a huge pitch for me, and I use it a lot now. It's one of my go-to pitches."
Getting ground balls and using as few pitches as possible will serve Blanton well anywhere, but his approach will especially aid him in Citizens Bank Park. He'll need it to lower his career ERA, nearly a run higher on the road than at home.
"He's not affected," Baker said. "He's pitched in small ballparks in the American League. His pitching style, it doesn't matter what park he's in."
Simply, Blanton adapts, something that took a humorous turn in Baker's eyes when the two went to dinner on Saturday -- at a sushi restaurant.
"He's a chicken and steak guy," Baker said. "We went out for sushi and I said, 'You like sushi now? What happened to you?'"
"Yeah, he found that out last night," Blanton said. "In Oakland, they have a lot of places. I started off slow and progressed, then ran away with it."
He just needs to find good sushi in Philadelphia.
|"He's exactly the kind of pitcher they're looking for. He never wants to come out of a game."|
|-- Marlins catcher John Baker, Blanton's former teammate|
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.