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Four sure? Blanton returns as starter

Blanton returns as starter

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PHILADELPHIA -- When the Phillies asked Joe Blanton to spend the early portion of this year's postseason in their bullpen, the amiable right-hander viewed it as an opportunity to provide more contributions than he would have made in a starter's role.

Now with his team moving toward the chance to return to the World Series, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is looking for Blanton to be the reliable starter that he proved to be in clutch games during last year's postseason.

While it's been more than two weeks since he was utilized as a starter, Blanton will find himself in a familiar position on Monday at 8:07 p.m. ET on TBS and Postseason.TV, when he starts Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park.

Tale of the Tape: Game 4
2009 Regular Season
Overall: 34 GS, 11-7, 3.23 58 BB 160 SP
Overall: 31 GS, 12-8, 4.05
Key stat: 10.16 BR/9 6th lowest in NL
Key stat: .217 BA RISP
Postseason
Career: 1 G, 1 GS, 0-0, 4.91
Career: 6 G, 3 GS, 2-0, 3.18
At Citizens Bank Park
2009: 1 GS, 1-0, 1.50 Career: 27 GS, 9-7, 4.30
2009: 16 GS, 7-4, 3.77 Career: 23 GS, 9-4, 3.71
Against this opponent
2009: 2 GS, 1-1, 5.11 Career: 3 GS, 1-1, 4.42
2009: 1 GS, 0-0, 1.50 Career: 4 GS, 1-0, 2.88
Loves to face: Ryan Howard is 1-for-9, 4 SO Hates to face: Pedro Feliz, 5-for-17, 3 HR
Loves to face: Matt Kemp is 2-for-11 Hates to face: Manny Ramirez is 14-for-25, 1 HR
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Howard, Utley, Werth combined 3-for-26, 10 SO
Why he'll win: 2-0, 3.18 in 3 playoff starts
Pitcher beware: Torre seems to lack confidence in the veteran left-hander
Pitcher beware: Ramirez has highest avg. of any opp., min. 25 AB
Bottom line: Big return for one-time Phillies lefty
Bottom line: He was big for the Phillies in 2008 playoff run

Each of Blanton's three starts during the 2008 postseason were made during the fourth game of a series. In each instance, the Phillies won and gained the same 3-1 series advantage that they would secure with a win on Monday.

This will be Blanton's first postseason start since he aided his own cause in Game 4 of the 2008 World Series with a fifth-inning homer that earned him the honor of having his bat displayed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

"Hopefully we'll be able to have Joe The Lumber and Joe The Arm out there [Monday]," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said after Sunday night's 11-0 win over the Dodgers in Game 3.

"I feel like in the postseason every game is big," Blanton said. "If it's 2-1, you can keep it from coming back even, or if you're down 1-2, it's a big game to keep them from making that big step. So either way, it's a really big game."

Blanton will be attempting to set the stage for Cole Hamels, who according to Manuel is slated to pitch Game 5 on Wednesday. In addition, he'll be attempting to continue his success against the Dodgers. In four regular-season starts against them, he has gone 1-0 with a 2.88 ERA.

When Blanton limited the Dodgers to one run and five hits in six innings on June 6, he benefited from the fact that Manny Ramirez was serving his 50-game suspension. Ramirez has hit .560 (14-for-25) in his career against the Phillies hurler.

While facing the Dodgers in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS, Blanton issued a leadoff walk that helped the Dodgers take a one-run lead with a two-run fifth inning. Still, the eventual win the Phillies pocketed at Dodger Stadium that evening might not have been realized had the veteran hurler not stopped the bleeding by ending that inning with a double-play groundout.

"He's very durable," Manuel said of Blanton, who led the Phillies with 195 1/3 innings this year. "He's aggressive and he likes to pitch. He's very gutty, and what really caught my mind last year was how he pitched [in last year's playoffs]."

Armed with four quality pitches -- fastball, slider, curveball and changeup -- Blanton has the resources to prove versatile against different lineups. Manuel vividly remembers the right-hander being aggressive with his fastball against the Brewers during last year's Division Series and then proving to be more of a finesse pitcher against the Rays during the World Series.

"I kind of mix it up a little bit, depending on the team, depending on the hitter, maybe depending on what's working that day," Blanton said. "There's a lot of factors."

One variable that Blanton can't control is the rust that he might have developed while pitching just 3 2/3 relief innings since completing his forgettable regular-season finale against the Marlins on Oct. 2.

While there is reason to wonder if Blanton could prove to be rusty, there is also some indication that the rest could prove to be beneficial. From June 24-Sept. 5, he went 5-3 with a 2.52 ERA and limited opponents to a .243 batting average. Then he surrendered at least five earned runs in three of his final five starts.

Provided an extra day of rest in the other two outings, Blanton produced scoreless performances.

"I'm going to do whatever it takes to help us win," Blanton said. "If that means being in the bullpen or not throwing at all or whatever it is, I'm going to do as much as I can to help us win and help us achieve our goal that we've been working for all year."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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