He hasn’t pitched in the majors since he was placed on the 10-Day DL with right shoulder inflammation on May 17th, but Joe Blanton returned to the mound in competitive action with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators last night.
Blanton, 36, tossed a scoreless inning for the Nationals’ Eastern League affiliate, striking out two batters in a 15-pitch frame at the start of the game.
[NOTE: “Nats’ prospect Erick Fedde tossed a scoreless inning of relief as well, striking out two in a 19-pitch frame.”]
Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker, who announced that Blanton would pitch in Double-A on Thursday, talked before tonight’s series opener with the Texas Rangers about what he heard from Blanton’s outing, when he was asked what, if any, reports he received.
“I haven’t seen the report,” Baker said, “but he said he felt good and as long as he feels good, we feel good, and sometimes the longer you play the longer you kind of fool yourself that you’re okay, because sometimes your body and your mind plays tricks on you.”
Blanton, who signed a 1-year/$4M deal with the Nationals this Spring, struggled in his 14 pre-injury appearances out of Washington’s bullpen, giving up 20 hits, (six of them home runs) and 14 runs, 13 earned, in 12 1⁄3 innings pitched, posting a 9.49 ERA and a 8.67 FIP after he put up a 2.48 ERA and a 3.33 FIP, and allowed seven home runs in 80 innings, out of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bullpen last season.
Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters after Blanton landed on the DL, as quoted by The Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes, that he thought the late date of the right-hander’s signing this Spring may have played a role in his injury and inflated numbers early in 2017.
“Don’t forget, he came to spring training extremely late and started up extremely quickly and hasn’t been right for a while,” Rizzo said. “So we’re finally going to shut him down, get him right so we can get the old Joe Blanton back.”
When will he be back? Baker said today that last night’s outing was just the first step, and he’ll have to make at least one more rehab appearance before he returns to the Nationals’ bullpen.
“He has at least one,” Baker explained, “then he’ll have to go see how he does with rest and then he’ll have to go back-to-back, so I don’t know how long it’s been now?”
Reporters told him it had been about 3-4 weeks.
“Blanton’s been out a month? Well, it will at least be another week’s worth to me, or it could be less, but a lot of it depends on how he recovers from back-to-back, you’ve got to go back-to-back first.”
Once he does return, provided he has no setbacks along the way, where will he fit in the major league ‘pen?
“It depends on him,” Baker said.
“We didn’t have [Oliver] Perez down as a late-inning guy either, but he’s doing a pretty good job. So, the job that you do is what you — we’re going to give certain guys more chances than others — but the better you do that job and the more confidence you show us, then the better off everybody is.”