Two years in the making: Royals' Blanton grabs a win
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Dave Eiland and Don Wakamatsu both approached manager Ned Yost during Wednesday's 10-2 win over Milwaukee. They were wondering if Kansas City should warm up a reliever to take over for Joe Blanton in the fifth inning.
Eiland saw left-hander Adam Lind on the horizon. Wakamatsu foresaw Ryan Braun coming up. But with two outs, Yost's decision was made.
"This kid's worked too hard to get within one out of a win," Yost said. "I'm going to let him face the next three hitters."
Blanton didn't have to face the next three hitters, just the next one as he got Gerardo Parra to ground out to end the inning. By ending the fifth, Blanton scooped up his first win since 2013 in his first start since that season.
He eased through the five innings, allowing just five hits and striking out four before being lifted after 73 pitches. Yost said he didn't want to overextend Blanton, who should be ready to throw 90 pitches his next time out. Blanton said he probably could have gone another inning.
Blanton has surprised with every appearance. Prior to Wednesday evening, he had been used almost exclusively in mop-up duty, the Royals losing in all seven of his outings despite an impressive 1.80 ERA.
"Joe's been throwing the ball really, really well," Yost said. "He's worked really, really hard for this win. It's been a long time. It's been a lot of rehabbing and getting himself in great shape and having to go back to the minors."
Before Wednesday's game, general manager Dayton Moore revealed what made Blanton attractive to them. After all, he was a 34-year-old pitcher who threw 10 2/3 innings at Triple A the year before. His ERA slid under 4.00 just twice in his 10-year career. Opponents had blasted 58 home runs off Blanton in his previous two major league seasons.
But Blanton had reinvented his physical fitness and recommitted himself to baseball, Moore said. Instead of living in the gym and hovering around 205 pounds, Blanton got himself into baseball shape and away from the weight he described as his high school freshman self. Now, he says he's back to 225 pounds.
This was a Blanton who the Royals thought could contribute to the team in 2015, but only if he was patient enough to watch a pair of opt-outs roll by. First came the one on April 1. He headed to Triple A Omaha instead. Then came the one on May 15. The Royals brought him up the next day.
"Our people felt like we needed to keep him in the organization," Moore said. "And every time out, he's pitched better and better at the major league level."
So came the former first-round pick who had given up on baseball. The Royals wanted him to finally be a contributor to the club, a couple of years after coveting him on the free-agent market in the winter before 2013. The Angels snatched him instead and Blanton trudged through a 2-14 season and shouldered a 6.04 ERA as he was relegated to bullpen duty.
Watch the Royals Live pregame and postgame shows before and after every Kansas City Royals game on FOX Sports Kansas City.
That 2013 season feels like an eternity for Blanton, his poorest season a distant memory.
"The year off makes it feel longer," Blanton said. "I didn't watch any baseball or anything."
Moore indicated a hiatus from baseball could be welcome for some pitchers. Blanton said the mental break helped him. For Yost, it becomes more fun to watch Blanton succeed again in the majors.
"You sit back and you really root for those guys," Yost said.