Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thome, Blanton give Phils a series win

MINNEAPOLIS – Two Sundays ago at Citizens Bank Park, Joe Blanton was tagged with his third loss in a span of four starts.
It was the fourth straight start in which he allowed at least five runs. Blanton would make it five straight five days later/
But after that start against the Marlins in South Philly 12 days ago, Blanton felt he turned the corner. He wasn’t leaving as many pitches up in the zone, he said he had better command and his pitchers were “crisper.”
The results just weren’t there, Blanton said.

For the first time in a month, Blanton found both comfort on the mound and results on the scoreboard Thursday night at Target Field. Following back-to-back nights of slugfests between the Phillies and Twins, Blanton held the home team to a solo home run in nine sharp innings en route to a 6-1 win.
The complete game was the second of the season for Blanton. Entering the year, Blanton hadn’t thrown two complete games in a season since 2007, when he was with the Oakland Athletics.
“He threw strikes all night and made good pitches when he had to,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “He did a good job.”
“I felt like the last two (starts) I was getting close but not quite there, and kind of the same today,” Blanton said. “It’s not one of those where it was a quick fix and everything suddenly got better. It’s been kind of a trying a few different things and gradually getting a little more comfortable and more comfortable.”
Thursday’s victory marked the first time the Phils had won back-to-back games since May 30-June 1, a span of two weeks.
The Phillies (31-34) are nine games back of the first-place Washington Nationals on the National League East. The Phillies, who have been in last place for 40 of the last 41 days, are two games behind fourth-place Miami.
“Sometimes a little bit goes a long way,” Blanton said. “Win a couple in a row and the next thing you know you win another one and another one, and you’ve put together a good streak of wins.”
For the second straight night, Jim Thome fueled the offense. Thome slugged a three-run home run to break a 1-1 tie in the third inning.
Thome is providing the Phils with the middle-of-the-order power they’ve lacked without Ryan Howard in the season’s first two months. Not bad for a guy who turns 42-years-old in August.
“There's always going to be people who doubt the age,” Thome said. “That's part of it. To know you can work hard and have some success does mean a lot, no doubt.”
In six games as the Phillies cleanup hitter and designated hitter, Thome is hitting .458 (11-for-24) with three home runs, two doubles, 13 RBIs and three walks. Thome’s nine RBIs against the Twins were the most he’s had in a three-game series in his 22-year career.
“Thome had a big series to say the least,” Manuel said of Thome, who has homered in back-to-back games.
Ty Wigginton also homered for the Phillies while Jimmy Rollins kept his hot bat in tune, too, going 3-for-5 with a double. The Phils scored just two more runs after Thome’s home run – the 607th of his career – but they wouldn’t need an onslaught of offense with Blanton blanking the Twins lineup for most of the night.
Blanton’s lone mistake was a one-out home run from Trevor Plouffe in the second inning. Plouffe homered in each of the three games in the series.
After Plouffe’s latest long ball, Blanton allowed just one more runner to advance past first base. After Alexi Casilla’s two-out double in the second, Blanton retired five straight and 12 of 13 as he cruised into the sixth inning.
Blanton needed only 88 pitches to get through seven innings Thursday.
“I finally made some pitches with my fastball,” Blanton said.
“He has to be consistent on his fastball; he pitches off his fastball,” Manuel said. “When he's locating good, his secondary stuff plays up big. He was getting some curveballs over tonight. He was selling them on them and they were swinging at them.”
With Phillies starting pitchers struggling this month – they came into Thursday’s game with a 5.97 ERA in their last 15 games – Blanton got them back on track.
Blanton, who had a 9.91 ERA in his previous five starts, looked a lot more like the durable veteran who tossed his first shutout in a Phillies uniform on May 3 in Atlanta during a seven-start stretch to begin the season when he sported a 2.81 ERA.
From the third inning through the seventh, Blanton didn’t allow a runner beyond first base. When Joe Mauer ended that in the eighth, legging out an infield single before stealing second, Blanton struck out Twins’ cleanup hitter Josh Willingham for the third time in four at-bats.
Blanton struck out seven and walked zero. He was the first Phillies starting pitcher to go at least eight innings since Cole Hamels did so on Memorial Day in New York – over two weeks ago.
“It was real good,” Manuel said. “Tonight's game should be a real big confidence builder for Joe because he did a tremendous job. When you get a pitching performance like that, that's really good to see.”


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