Thank goodness Joe Blanton is back.
Too bad the bullpen isn't.
The Cardinals beat the Phillies, 6-3, to take the first game of the four-game series. But Blanton, who opened the season on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique, looked good in his season debut. He had thrown 79 pitches through six innings against the Cardinals, allowing seven hits and just one run.
There have been times in the past when Manuel has pulled a pitcher because he said he liked the spot the pitcher had taken them to in the game. Blanton had done his job Monday, so the Phillies could have pulled him there.
But this was not one of those times.
"If our bullpen is full, like if we had everybody down there ready, who we're supposed to have and stuff like that, I don't know if I can answer that or not," said Manuel, asked if he might have gone to his bullpen if it had pitched better this season. "I don't know what I'd do. But I think Joe did pretty good. He felt OK."
Blanton, who had thrown 67 pitches in his final rehab start last Wednesday with Double-A Reading, said he felt strong taking the mound in the seventh. Manuel thought he looked good, too. But Blanton allowed a pinch-hit home run to Nick Stavinoha to lead off the inning to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. Blanton then allowed a one-out single to Skip Schumaker and a two-out single to Albert Pujols to put runners on first and second.
The Phillies pulled Blanton.
"Even at the end," Blanton said, asked if he felt strong. "I felt like I could easily throw over 100 [pitches]."
Offensively, the Phillies had little success against the Cardinals in a game that featured instant replay on a Chase Utley ball that correctly was ruled foul in the first inning; Manuel's first ejection of the season, which he picked up for arguing that Blanton had not run outside the base-line in the fifth inning; and a Philadelphia police officer tasering a fan who had run onto the field.
But back to the bullpen. Before the season started the Phillies envisioned Danys Baez, J.C. Romero, Jose Contreras or Chad Durbin pitching the Phillies out of trouble in the seventh inning. But the Phillies chose Nelson Figueroa, because the bullpen is out of sorts. Ryan Madson is on the DL and the Phillies are bringing along Brad Lidge and Romero slowly following offseason elbow injuries. Durbin was unavailable after pitching two innings Sunday. Baez has pitched back-to-back days just once this season, and he had pitched an inning Sunday. And the Phillies wanted to save Contreras, who has been their best reliever this season, for the eighth or ninth inning.
Figueroa intentionally walked Matt Holliday to load the bases, then allowed a double to David Freese to clear the bases and give the Cardinals a 5-1 lead. He followed that with a single to Colby Rasmus to score Freese and make it 6-1.
"Figueroa pitched good in Phoenix. He pitched good in San Francisco the other day," Manuel said, explaining the team's decision to go with Figueroa in the seventh. "He did a good job, and if Figgy would have gotten out of the seventh we more than likely would have used somebody [else] in the eighth."
Manuel said before the game that he was unlikely to use Lidge in a save situation, but he said after the game he might have done just that.
"The way we were talking in there maybe Contreras would have pitched the eighth and Lidge might have pitched the ninth," Manuel said.
But Blanton's once beautiful pitching line suddenly looked a lot less pretty. The record showed he allowed 10 hits, four runs, one walk and one home run and struck out four in 6 2/3 innings. He threw 94 pitches.
He deserved better.
Moral victories mean nothing to the Phillies, but they had no choice but to take one.
They got Blanton back. He pitched very well through six. Maybe he can stabilize the rotation.
"It was good to get back out there," Blanton said. "Personally, I would rather get thrown out there against one of the better teams. It just shows you right where you're at from the start. They're one of the best teams in the league, and I wouldn't have had it any other way in a close game. Just throw you out in the fire from the start. That's what gets you right back into that flow."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.