Blanton vows to solve problems of down season
ANAHEIM -- Joe Blanton's first appearance in two weeks finally came Tuesday night, a 3 1/3-inning stint of mop-up duty that saw him give up a run on three hits and four walks. Blanton also threw his first bullpen session since early August earlier that day.
"I got a little tired toward the end," he said. "I hadn't pitched in the last month, so that stamina has definitely decreased. It was a warm day, too."
Blanton, used to the every-five-day routine of a starting pitcher, doesn't know when he's going to pitch, and thus doesn't even know when to get on a mound to implement the multitude of mechanical adjustments he's working on.
He's currently winding down a season that is easily the toughest of his 10-year career, and one of the worst ever for an Angels pitcher. Although he's slated to make $7.5 million in 2014 -- the club holds a $1 million buyout of his '15 salary -- Blanton also faces the possibility of getting released this winter.
"Honestly, I don't know," Blanton said, asked how he would feel if that were the case. "I've never been in that situation. I've been traded twice, but that's about it. Once I got called up, I've never been sent back down, I've never been released or anything. I don't even know how I would take it, to be honest with you."
Blanton -- signed to a two-year, $15 million contract -- had averaged 10 wins, a 4.37 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP and 178 innings from 2005-12. This year, he says he's in the best physical shape of his career. And in Spring Training, Blanton was almost unhittable, with a 2.37 ERA, no walks and 13 strikeouts in 19 innings.
Then the wheels came off. Blanton struggled mightily in his first three starts, turned it around for a brief period, struggled again, and by the time July 22 came, the 32-year-old right-hander was 2-13 with a 5.66 ERA and out of a job, relegated to his current long-relief role that has him pitching only in blowouts.
Why was the 2013 season such a bad one for Blanton?
There are several theories.
One is the environment he walked into, with fans clamoring for Zack Greinke and disappointed in Blanton being the one obtained on Dec. 12, instead. That, some observers believe, was a severe hit on Blanton's confidence.
"I don't feel like it played a part in me," Blanton refutes. "I'm going to do what I'm going to do. [Greinke]'s an unbelievable pitcher. Nobody is somebody else. If you try to live up to that and try to be somebody else, that's going to be hard to do. So I never really tried to do more than what I was capable of doing."
Others simply point to the fact that Blanton, who has always pitched to contact, is back in the tougher American League, where he hasn't pitched in about five years.
"If he's throwing the ball like he can, he might not have matched some of the numbers that he put up previously in his career, but it certainly wouldn't have been some of the numbers we saw here," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "So, some midpoint. He has the ability to throw the ball better than I think he's shown."
That's Blanton's focus over the four weeks that remain in the season. He's trying to get a more fluid motion toward home plate and consistently get on top of the ball to bring some of his late life back, which he felt he was finally able to see during his rare appearance in Tuesday's 7-1 loss to the Rays.
His role is relatively unimportant, the Angels are out of the playoff picture and Blanton's final numbers are guaranteed to be disappointing. But he hasn't stopped working, maintaining his rigorous daily routine and trying to find some way to make it click again.
"I've been off all year," Blanton said. "There's no doubt about that, no denying it. But there's the want to fix it -- for now and the future, as well. I'm not done this year. It's not my last year."