Notes: Blanton sparkles in start

Notes: Blanton sparkles in start

PHOENIX -- Joe Blanton's Opening Day start against the Red Sox in Tokyo Dome on March 25 is exactly three weeks away. And his crisp outing against the Mariners on Tuesday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium seemed like a sign of good things to come.

Save for a two out, second-inning, run-scoring double by Wladimir Balentien, and Yung Chi Chen's one-out, third inning solo homer, Blanton had a pretty nifty four innings. He allowed those two runs on four hits, while striking out two and walking none.

"I think I'm pretty much right on track," Blanton said. "I don't think I'm behind and I don't think I'm necessarily way ahead. My coaches tell me how many innings to throw and how many pitches. I was under my pitch limit. I was supposed to do 60 [pitches] and four [innings]. I threw about 55. So that was pretty good."

Because the A's break camp on March 19 to fly to Japan, Blanton is only going to have three more starts. It's essentially the same schedule for Rich Harden, who's slated to face Boston on March 26.

"He did real good," A's manager Bob Geren said about Blanton after the 9-6 win. "He was much sharper than his first outing. He used all of his pitches."

During his first outing in the Cactus League opener against the Brewers at Maryvale on Feb. 28, Blanton was pelted for six runs on eight hits in two innings. He was targeted for 40 pitches, a lot for an initial start.

But he doesn't feel like he's rushing it a little this year because the season starts about a week early.

"I don't think it's really any different," he said. "Just a couple of days got pushed ahead. That was good. By the time I pitch in Japan you're at six or seven innings anyway. It's just a matter of mentally getting into a state of mind for a real game."

About pitching in Japan, Blanton said he's excited about it.

"Yeah, it should be interesting," he said. "Pitching somewhere else and playing in a new stadium. It's something new. It should be very exciting."

Crosby update: Shortstop Bobby Crosby missed his second consecutive game after being scratched from Monday's lineup against the Angels because of spasms in his back. Crosby homered against the Rockies on Sunday. Geren said he expected Crosby to play Wednesday against the Padres.

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"It's something I've experience before, it seems like it's something that happens to me once a year at some point," Crosby said prior to Tuesday's game. "It happened to me last year during Spring Training when I dove for a ball. Hopefully this is the extent of it this year."

This and that: Right-hander Keith Foulke, in his second tour with the A's and after sitting out last season, threw to batters for the first time this spring. Backup catcher Rob Bowen, who was one of those hitters, said Foulke had control of all his pitches and that his velocity was starting to pick up from earlier in the spring. "He wasn't laboring to throw hard," Bowen said. "It looked the ball was coming out of his hand nice and easy." ... Outfielder Ryan Sweeney was sufficiently recovered from a bruised right knee and started in center field on Tuesday against the M's. He was 1-for-4. Sweeney sustained the injury this past Thursday in the Cactus League opener against the Brewers at Maryvale when he collided with Milwaukee's power-hitting first baseman Prince Fielder. ... Right-hander Chad Gaudin had his second bullpen session of the spring. This one was broken up in two parts -- 20 pitches and rest followed by 20 more pitches. Gaudin is working his way back from left hip and right foot surgery on Dec. 18. ... Emil Brown was back in the lineup after missing two games because of the flu. He was 1-for-3. ... After Monday's duel successful outings, Harden and Justin Duchscherer are scheduled to start Saturday's split-squad double-header. The A's are home against the Cubs and Peoria against the M's. Harden is expected to stretch out to 60 pitches over four or five innings and Duchscherer is slated for 40 pitches over three innings, said pitching coach Curt Young, who added that it was still to be determined who would travel and who would get the cushier Phoenix assignment.

Up next: The A's play the Padres at Phoenix Muni on Wednesday. Crosby is expected back in the lineup after missing two games. The fight for the No. 5 slot in the starting rotation continues with left-hander Lenny DiNardo making the start and getting his shot at the job.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.