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Big Addition to Pen

It’s forgivable if you weren’t excited when the Pirates acquired pitcher Joe Blanton at the trade deadline. With all of the big names being thrown around at the time, he was easily an afterthought.

Nevertheless, Blanton looks like he might be yet another quality find for general manager Neal Huntington.

Pittsburgh got their first look at Blanton in July against Kansas City when he tossed 3.2 scoreless innings of relief in a Royals comeback victory. He posted good numbers with the defending American League champs–a 2-2 record with an ERA of 3.89 and a FIP of 3.56–but when KC made a move to bring in Johnny Cueto, Blanton was the odd man out. That’s when the Pirates swooped in and grabbed him for cash considerations.

And after tossing three innings of scoreless relief on Saturday in the Pirates’ 6-5 win over the NL West leading Dodgers, the bullpen may have something it hasn’t had this year: a quality long-relief arm. Radhames Liz was streaky throughout his time in the bigs and Vance Worley never seemed comfortable coming out of the bullpen.

Considering how the Dodgers’ offense was producing early, it was a game that could have gotten away from the Pirates earlier in the year if either one of Blanton’s predecessors had taken the hill.

“One of the reasons we got him was his ability to pitch through the lineup,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He locked in and settled in.”

While the Pirates have a history of dumpster diving under Huntington, Blanton’s case may have appeared more hopeless than most coming into this season. A 2-14 2013 campaign forced him into an early retirement at age 33, but after taking a year off Blanton has started to regain the form that made him a 16 game winner.

“I feel very blessed to be on the two teams I’ve been on this year,” Blanton said. “I didn’t really miss it [in 2014]…[but] all in all, I’m glad to be back.”

The talent is there, and while Blanton wore many hats in Kansas City (ranging from innings-eater to starter), he may have to wear even more in Pittsburgh. A.J. Burnett has barely begun doing any tossing since being placed on the DL, and with a shaky start under J.A. Happ’s belt and the threat of Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke nosediving, Blanton is going to need to be on call in case something goes wrong before the rosters expand on September 1st.

“I’ve kind of been in every situation possible this year,” Blanton said. “[I’m] ready for whatever.”

With two quality outings that add up to five innings pitched, one earned run and a stupefyingly good 222 ERA+, Pirate fans should feel good about him taking a spot in the bullpen. Worley was a good starter, but he wasn’t as good of a reliever and he struggled the one time the team called on him to make an emergency start.

That’s not to say that Blanton won’t get hit at any time during these next two months, but he’s more comfortable in this role, and he should make the bullpen better. It took over four months, but the form of the ‘pen finally seems to have taken shape, and Blanton is going to be a very unheralded part of it.

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