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For Blanton, good outing not enough


For Blanton, good outing not enough
Joe Blanton allowed himself to smile a few times while dissecting his 3-1 loss to Milwaukee last night. The pitcher, although disappointed, considered both he and the Phillies to be in a similar place: improving, not immune to small setbacks, but close to showing more consistency.

"We're almost getting in a rhythm, and then it's like, rain delay, rainout, it seems like it's something every game," he said. "Hopefully, we'll get to where we can play a few games in a row and really get on a nice roll. You can almost sense it coming, but it's almost like that car that won't quite start. [But] it's getting ready to get that nice kick and get rolling."

The Phillies hope that Blanton's analysis is correct. The questions hovering over the team since opening night - What is wrong with the starting rotation? Have there been too many off days? How have the World Series celebrations and loss of announcer Harry Kalas affected the team? - have been asked many times, but their 6-7 record has failed to provide many answers. Their quiet offense last night created more uncertainty.

Pitching through heavy rain and wind, Blanton hoped to follow Jamie Moyer's six-inning, four-runs-allowed win on Tuesday with another victory, and begin to silence the questions surrounding the pitching.

But while he provided the team with his second quality start (allowing three runs or fewer in at least six innings), the offense failed to muster an extra base for 81/3 innings. Jayson Werth's ninth-inning home run, and singles by Raul Ibanez and Matt Stairs, hinted at a comeback but came too late.

The team took comfort in Blanton's improvement. The 28-year-old righthander was the Phillies' best pitcher during spring training, but like everyone in the rotation, he experienced a mysterious downturn once the team's title defense began in earnest April 5.

On April 8, Blanton allowed seven runs in four innings. In his next game, he gave the Phillies their second quality start but lost to Washington. He allowed a three-run home run in the first inning and finished that outing with five scoreless innings.

Last night, Blanton built on that performance by beginning the game with 41/3 scoreless innings. But on Blanton's 71st pitch, Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy homered. Milwaukee increased its lead in the sixth when a Mike Cameron double scored Corey Hart and Ryan Braun, turning Blanton's excellent night into a decent one.

Charlie Manuel deemed the performance satisfactory. "He pitched good enough if we had scored some runs," the manager said.

But Milwaukee starter Braden Looper was more effective, pitching six scoreless innings.

"We hit some balls right on the nose, seemed like it was right at them," Manuel said. "We hit four balls hard to the rightfielder."

Werth, told of Blanton's automotive metaphor, agreed that the team was close to finding a rhythm. "I had a car like that," he said. "That's a pretty good analogy."

While leaving a clubhouse that was hardly funereal, Werth was reminded that Looper failed to strike out a batter. "No strikeouts?" he said, looking back over his shoulder and grinning. "Like I said, we'll be all right."

Contact staff writer Andy Martino at 215-854-4874 or amartino@phillynews.com.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 23, 2009

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