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Down 2-1, Phils stick with Blanton for Game 4

Down 2-1, Phils stick with Blanton for Game 4

SAN FRANCISCO -- This is precisely the scenario that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel dreaded. But there he was Tuesday evening, his Phillies in a 2-1 hole against the Giants in the National League Championship Series and Manuel facing a potentially series-changing pitching decision.

The steady skipper is sticking with his original plan: Right-hander Joe Blanton will start Game 4 on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX and Postseason.TV).

"No discussion," Manuel said.

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At least that's the case inside the Philadelphia clubhouse. Outside, Manuel's decision to stay with Blanton -- who hasn't started since Sept. 29 at Washington and hasn't pitched at all since a relief stint on Oct. 3 against the Braves -- might be the issue being discussed most as the Phillies try to stay alive in the series, unless you count the case of the missing Philadelphia offense.

An alternate scenario loomed before Tuesday's Game 3. Manuel could have opted to skip Blanton altogether and go back to Game 1 starter Roy Halladay on three days' rest. Then he could have used Roy Oswalt short in Game 5 and then probably Cole Hamels short -- for the first time in his career -- in a potential Game 6. If it got to Game 7, well, Manuel would have had little choice but to use Halladay on short rest again.

Manuel didn't want to discuss that scenario on Tuesday morning and said little about his decision after the Phillies' 3-0 loss in Game 3. Blanton didn't want to think about it, either.

"If I'm getting myself ready for the start, then I'm not starting, there's not going to be any surprises," he said. "But if I'm taking it as I'm not, then all of a sudden I am, then it's going to be a shock. So I take it as I am the whole time and kind of what happens is going to happen."

Yes, that start is going to happen.

Blanton was 9-6 with a 4.82 ERA during a 2010 season delayed at the start by a rib-cage strain. He beat the Giants on Aug. 18 at Citizens Bank Park, allowing two runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings and striking out seven batters vs. no walks.

Tale of the Tape: NLCS Game 4
2010 Regular Season
Overall: 29 G, 28 GS, 9-6, 4.82 ERA, 43 BB, 134 Ks
Overall: 18 GS, 7-6, 3.00 ERA, 26 BB, 86 Ks
Key stat: 2.51 ERA in last five regular-season starts
Key stat: 1.13 ERA in Sept.
Postseason
2010: N/A
Career: 8 G, 5 GS, 2-0, 3.89 ERA
2010: 1 GS, 1-0, 3.00 ERA
Career: 1 GS, 1-0, 3.00 ERA
At AT&T PARK
2010: N/A Career: 3 GS, 0-1, 3.57 ERA
2010: 8 GS, 1-3, 4.60 ERA Career: 9 GS, 1-3, 4.47 ERA
Against this opponent
2010: 1 GS, 1-0, 2.84 ERA Career: 7 GS, 2-3, 4.73 ERA
2010: N/A Career: N/A
Loves to face: Juan Uribe (1-for-11)
Hates to face: Freddy Sanchez (3-for-12, 3 HRs)
Loves to face: N/A
Hates to face: N/A
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Been there, done that
Why he'll win: Competitive rookie showed no fear in NLDS
Pitcher beware: Hasn't thrown since a one-inning outing on Oct. 3
Pitcher beware: His 4.60 ERA at AT&T Park this season is no home-field advantage
Bottom line: Savvy veteran
Bottom line: Beyond his years

The former Oakland A's pitcher has a 3.57 ERA in three career starts at AT&T Park, and if you take away one awful outing in 2008, Blanton has a 3.50 ERA in his six other starts against the Giants.

"He has pitched good against San Francisco," Manuel said. "He's very capable of pitching real good. He hasn't pitched for quite a while -- that's the only thing."

Manuel's choice was similar to the one that faced Yankees skipper Joe Girardi, whose club dropped Game 3 of the American League Championship Series to Cliff Lee and the Rangers, and fell into a 2-1 hole. Instead of bringing back Game 1 starter CC Sabathia, Girardi trusted struggling righty A.J. Burnett for Game 4. The right-hander lost, and the Yankees are now in a 3-1 hole.

The Phillies are taking the same approach in introducing a fourth starter.

"If you move one up, you've got to move all three up," Phils pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "If you move one up and then you pitch Joe, well then you're pitching him anyway. We think Joe is very capable. Don't slight this guy. This guy has pitched us some good baseball for us in the second half. And he's pitched well in San Francisco."

Halladay, for the record, made his availability clear to Manuel and Dubee.

"I told both them I would pitch whenever," he said. "I think they know that. I don't think there has to be a lot said. It's their call at that point."

Is he disappointed he won't get that chance?

"No," Halladay said. "I'll pitch when they want me to pitch. That's their call. That's it."

Blanton actually enters the postseason on a hot streak. He was 3-0 in September with a 3.58 ERA, and he did not walk a batter in three of those five starts.

He's also been very good in previous Game 4s. In four such starts, he has a 3.52 ERA and the Phillies have won all four games.

"Joe's been good for us all year," second baseman Chase Utley said. "He's a gamer. He's a horse. When he gets the ball, I imagine he'll be ready."

To shake off some of the rust from his long layoff, Blanton worked an 80-pitch simulated game last week.

"I think it was just nice to get on the mound and be able to face hitters," he said. "Not throwing in the first series then all the off-days in the postseason makes it quite a long time between outings if you don't get to throw.

"So it was nice to just see a hitter in the box and be able to work on some different counts and things like that, throwing different pitches in different situations and kind of getting up and back down."

This is not uncharted territory for Blanton. He had 16 days between starts in 2009, when he started a regular-season game Oct. 2 against Florida and Game 4 of the NLCS against the Dodgers on Oct. 19. In between, he made two relief appearances against the Rockies in the NLDS.

"This time of year, it's not that hard," Blanton said. "I had a long time between starts earlier in the year when I had that oblique injury. ... So it's not something that I haven't done before. To really keep yourself ready, you just have to get a lot of mound work in between, really. Just make sure you're getting those reps off the hill and working on all your pitches and keeping your mechanics real sound and solid."

If Blanton can win on Wednesday, the Phillies would be well positioned for the rest of the series. Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels would be lined up and available on regular rest.

"The secret to Joe is getting his secondary stuff over the plate and everything, his command of his fastball and getting the secondary stuff over the plate, and then usually he's going to keep you in the game," Manuel said. "I think with Joe, if we can get anywhere from five or six innings out of him, that's pretty good. Six innings would be real good.

"Usually, Blanton will give you a solid six innings. If he can give us that, that would be very good. I'm not saying he can't do better."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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