Some people eat cheeseburgers. Some people eat sushi. Joe Blanton eats innings. That's what the Phillies said when they acquired him from the Athletics last July, and that is what he has done this season, leading the team with 71 1/3 innings in 12 starts.
Blanton doesn't mind the reputation, even though "innings eater" isn't the first phrase used to describe guys like Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay.
"To go out there and eat innings, you have to throw well," said Blanton, who has averaged 5 2/3 innings per start since joining the Phillies last season. "A coach isn't going to keep running you out there if you are giving up six runs per game, just because he can keep running you out there."
In his last four starts, Blanton has allowed just six earned runs in 27 innings while striking out 28 and holding opponents to a .214 batting average. But for whatever reason, he seems to get more attention for the number of innings he pitches, rather than his effectiveness.
Blanton, 28, is in his fifth season. He started at least 31 games and threw at least 194 innings in each of his four full seasons in the major leagues, averaging about 6 1/3 innings per start.
"I think it's meant as a compliment," Blanton said. "Some people can try to twist it and interpret in a different way, but I always take it as a compliment. Because I know personally, like I said, you can't keep going out there and throwing innings if you are throwing bad."
For the last 3-plus weeks, Blanton has combined longevity and effectiveness, and with a tired bullpen that has thrown 30 1/3 innings in 7 days, they will need both against the Blue Jays today.
Heading into last night, four of the Phillies' last six games had reached extra innings, and another one was interrupted by a rain delay after the first inning, which helped force rookie starter Antonio Bastardo from the game.
A bullpen that is already without injured veterans Scott Eyre and Brad Lidge had thrown at least six innings in three straight starts before last night.
"To be consistent, that's when your pitching is going six or seven innings," manager Charlie Manuel said. "When you have guys going less than six innings - if you have two or three of them and they don't make six innings, that's going to put some burden on your bullpen right there."
But, Manuel went on to say, the Phillies have run into a string of rotten luck lately, at least when the preservation of their relief corps is concerned. Take Blanton's last start: The righthander lasted seven innings and allowed just two runs, but the bullpen still pitched six innings in a 5-2, 13-inning loss to the Red Sox last Friday.
The Phillies would be happy with a repeat performance from their righthander today. Blanton said he didn't always have the reputation as an "innings eater." During his college days at the University of Kentucky, he was more of a strikeout pitcher, which generally leads to higher pitch counts. But when he was drafted by Oakland, he bought into the organization's philosophy of pitching to contact and letting hitters get themselves out.
And while it is a pitcher's natural desire to pitch well and pitch deep, Blanton said starters are also aware when their teams need them to last longer. Take J.A. Happ's performance against the Red Sox Sunday, when he allowed four runs in the second inning and appeared headed for an early exit. Instead, he rebounded to finish 5 2/3 innings and keep the Phillies in position for a come-from-behind 11-6 win.
"At certain times I look at it like you are helping your teammates out," Blanton said. "Like the stretch we had with three extra-inning games and then a rain-delay game where a starter only gets to go one inning. The guy who is throwing the next day, you take pride if you can go long because you are sucking it up for your team. You are out there and battling, which I think Happ did a great job of."
Phillies scout Jim Fregosi Jr. was in Boston scouting Red Sox righthander Brad Penny, who started last night against Florida. Penny is believed to be available for trade and could step into the rotation spot vacated by righthander Brett Myers, who had hip surgery and is likely done for the season.
Penny is 6-2 with a 4.94 ERA and has been solid in all but two of his starts this season. Last night, he allowed one unearned run and three hits in five innings to the get the victory in Boston's 6-1 win over the Marlins.
Penny could be available thanks to Boston's abundance of pitching. In addition to the five pitchers in the rotation, the organization has veteran John Smoltz nearing a return from shoulder surgery and top prospect Clay Buchholz pitching well at Triple A.