Two years ago, Joe Blanton was retired and seemed destined to be remembered as a mediocre starter. But then he signed a minor league deal with the Royals, put up a solid year of relief work in 2015 and had an even better season in 2016. He took over setup duties for the Dodgers last season and put up a 2.48 ERA over 80 innings while striking out a batter per inning. At the center of his renaissance was heavy usage of a slider that had turned into one of the better pitches in baseball, which helped compensate for his low-90s heat. He might have difficulty replicating his 2016 season, as he had a .240 BABIP (62 points below his career average) and saw a big decline in groundball rate, but there's no denying Blanton has reinvented himself for the better. He figures to see plenty of work again in 2017.
Blanton tossed a perfect inning and struck out one in Friday's Grapefruit League game against the Cardinals. His Nats spring debut went as well as the team could have hoped. Blanton will fill a key role in a bullpen that doesn't yet have an official closer, but he's more likely to be a contributor in holds than saves this season.
Blanton will make his spring debut for the Nationals on Friday, according to manager Dusty Baker, Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post reports. The right-hander, who's enjoyed a career revival as a reliever the last two seasons, was brought in to chew up important appearances in the late innings. He may be considered for save opportunities eventually, but the likelier scenario places him in a set-up role. Blanton remains a useful, cheap gamble for saves and a steady option for holds in leagues that count them.
Blanton, who signed with the Nationals on Feb. 28, will hold a prominent spot in the bullpen, though general manager Mike Rizzo said his role could vary, Mark Zuckerman of MASN Sports reports. "He's been a quality setup man for the last couple years. He's pitched multiple innings. So he could fit as a long man, as a setup man," Rizzo said. "He's just a quality major league reliever that has flexibility." Zuckerman added that the right-hander could step in to close if a change if needed because of injury or poor performance, though it appears Washington favors to have him as a setup man to start the year, while Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen and Joe Nathan -- perhaps also Koda Glover -- compete for save chances. The 36-year-old has enjoyed a revival as a reliever in the last two seasons (combined 2.65 ERA, with 9.2 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9), and he even held left-handed bats to a .237 wOBA last year. That may prompt the Nats to have him face tough lefty mashers late in games, though they may also use him for save opportunities with similar circumstances. Blanton isn't a bad speculation in NL-only games and deep mixed setups that value relievers with K and ratio help, yet saves don't look like they'll reside in his immediate future.
Blanton signed a one-year deal with the Nationals on Tuesday, Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post reports. The 36-year-old spent last season with the Dodgers, posting a 2.48 ERA across 75 relief opportunities. The Nats likely view Blanton as a source of late-inning help, and it's possible he could be a factor in the team's search for a permanent closer.
Blanton has posted a 1.17 ERA in 23 innings since the end of July and continues to function as the team's top setup man. Blanton has been good all year, but great lately. With a 2.34 ERA and 27 holds in 77 innings, his one-year, $4 million deal has been a bargain for the Dodgers.
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