MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Philadelphia’s starting rotation has been stuck in a bit of a tailspin since ace Roy Halladay went down with a shoulder injury late last month.
With studs Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels still hurling, who would have thought Joe Blanton would be the one to step up and deliver a sterling performance? Not Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, that’s for sure.
Blanton pitched his second complete game of the season and Jim Thome homered for the second day in a row to lead the Phillies to a 6-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Thursday night.
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Blanton (6-6) gave up seven hits and struck out seven while going the distance for the eighth time in his career, snapping an ugly string of five straight starts with at least five runs allowed.
“That was a very pleasant surprise,” Manuel said of Blanton, who was 1-3 with a 9.91 ERA in his previous five starts. “It’s good for him to finish the game and everything. That’s good. He threw strikes all night and he made big pitches when he had to. He changed speeds very good. He did a good job.”
Ty Wigginton also homered for the Phillies, who took two of three from a Minnesota team that was unbeaten in its previous four series.
Trevor Plouffe homered for the third consecutive day and fifth time in six games for the Twins. Scott Diamond (5-2) gave up four runs and five hits in six innings.
Jimmy Rollins added three hits, and Carlos Ruiz and Placido Polanco drove in the final two runs for the Phillies.
With Halladay, Lee and Hamels in the rotation, the Phillies were supposed to be immune from losing streaks and deep enough to weather an injury or two. But the starters have struggled of late to pick up the slack after Halladay hit the disabled list on May 29, carrying an ERA over 6.00 into the game since losing their ace.
Blanton had been one of the biggest problems, getting tagged for 29 earned runs over his previous five starts. He gave up 11 homers during that stretch, but found some comfort at spacious Target Field. He allowed a solo homer to Plouffe in the second inning, but wasn’t hurt after that.
“He pretty much chewed us up,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Mixing his changeups with cutters and curveballs. He works quick. Always has.”
The right-hander scattered four singles over his final seven innings, mixing his fastball and changeup effectively to keep the Twins off balance. He got a scare in the sixth when Justin Morneau just missed a two-run homer on a drive that was caught by Shane Victorino at the wall in center field, but other than that it was fairly effortless as Blanton was able to give Jonathan Papelbon the night off after the closer picked up a four-out save on Wednesday.
“I felt like the last two I was getting close but just not quite there, and kind of the same today,” Blanton said. “It’s not one where quick fixes have all of a sudden made it better. It’s been trying a few things and grinding on it.”
Diamond had emerged as Minnesota’s surprising ace since being called up from Triple-A Rochester and making his season debut on May 8. The lefty entered the game with a 1.61 ERA and a 13-inning scoreless streak.
That ended in the second when Wigginton hit a solo shot to left field, and Big Jim introduced himself in the third inning.
Thome’s three-run homer landed in the flower bed above the scoreboard in right-center, giving the Phillies a 4-1 lead and Thome 607 homers in his brilliant career. He currently sits in eighth place on baseball’s career list, but Sammy Sosa (609) is in his sights.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing here,” Thome said. “And I’ve had some success here.”
Several fans leaned over the railing and rummaged through the flowers in hopes of getting their hands on a piece of history, but none were able to find it. A Twins spokesman said the team planned to dig out the ball Friday afternoon and send it to Thome, who spent most of the previous two seasons in Minnesota.
During his time here, Thome starred in a commercial dressed as Paul Bunyan and walked around with Babe the Blue Ox.
“Nothing he does surprises me,” Gardenhire said. “He’s such an ox. As a matter of fact, a blue ox. I saw a picture of him with one one time.”
NOTES: Thome’s homer was his 99th in a Phillies uniform. One more and he becomes the fourth player to hit at least 100 homers with three teams, joining Alex Rodriguez (Mariners, Rangers, Yankees), Reggie Jackson (Angels, Yankees, Athletics) and Darrell Evans (Braves, Giants, Tigers). … The Twins placed RHP P.J. Walters on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, and Gardenhire stressed to him that he needs to make the team aware when he isn’t feeling right. Walters started the game on Wednesday, but had to be pulled in the first inning. “That’s the mistake,” Gardenhire said. “You’ve got to trust (the trainers) in that room and let them do their job.” … The Twins will open a series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Target Field on Friday night. LHP Francisco Liriano (1-7, 6.45 ERA) will face Milwaukee RHP Yovani Gallardo (5-5, 4.21). … The Phillies leave for Toronto, where RHP Vance Worley (3-2, 3.00) will face Blue Jays RHP Drew Hutchison (5-3, 4.66) in the opener Friday night.