With future uncertain, Blanton ready to prove worth

With future uncertain, Blanton ready to prove worth

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Conditioning was one of the few things that actually wasn't a problem for Joe Blanton last year, but the 33-year-old right-hander is nonetheless leaner than he's ever been heading into this uncertain 2014 season, shedding somewhere between five and eight pounds during a winter dedicated more to developing quickness than overall strength.

It's one of the many things he hopes is different.

"Last year was by far the worst season I've ever had," Blanton can safely admit. "I'm not scared to say that. That's 100 percent. No season has even come close to that. I don't want to repeat it."

Blanton unraveled in the first of a two-year, $15 million contract with the Angels, going 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP in 132 2/3 innings. By July 23, he had given up a Major League-leading 24 homers and 157 hits, and had lost his rotation spot to an up-and-coming Garrett Richards, left to spend the final two-plus months in bullpen obscurity.

Blanton entered Spring Training in essentially the same position as Bobby Abreu in 2012 and Vernon Wells in 2013 -- a veteran coming off a bad season, with lots of money owed to him and seemingly no place on the roster.

But his importance suddenly grew on Saturday, when Mark Mulder suffered the ruptured left Achilles that derailed his comeback hopes.

Now, if the 22-year-old Tyler Skaggs doesn't prove he's ready to pitch in the big leagues, the Angels could turn to Blanton to temporarily round out the rotation until he is. If Skaggs wins the job, or if Matt Shoemaker or Wade LeBlanc impress in camp, then Blanton -- owed $7.5 million in 2014, plus a $1 million buyout of his 2015 option -- will either be traded or released before Opening Day on March 31.

"Where your pitching staff ends up from Day 1 of Spring Training to Day 1 of the opening season sometimes seems like a lifetime," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, minutes before Mulder's injury. "Joe needs to put his best foot forward; Joe needs to make some adjustments. He had just a terrible season last year, but he's shown in the last couple years that when he is throwing the ball to his capabilities, there's no doubt he can get Major League hitters out."

Blanton has always pitched to contact and has never been considered a shutdown ace, but he joined the Angels having thrown more than 190 innings in six of his previous eight seasons while posting a 4.37 ERA in that span.

Blanton believes he tightened up several mechanical flaws down the stretch last year while working with pitching coach Mike Butcher. Blanton always used to rock back as he fired toward home plate, but last year his front side stayed low, which took away a lot of his deception. Blanton believes he finally got back to being more front-side late in the year, then continued to throw over the course of the offseason to not lose touch with the mechanical adjustments he made.

When he starts to face hitters again, Blanton believes there will be a significant difference.

But will it even matter?

"That's one of those that's not in my power," said Blanton, asked if he believes there's a role for him on this team. "You go out and throw, and let it be.

"I'm here with a good frame of mind this year. I'm in good shape physically, and baseball shape as well. And also, I felt like I carried over the changes I made and they did some good in my throwing this winter. It kind of makes things fun again when you figure out what you're doing wrong for a full season to see how those changes result over."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.