Joe Blanton hasn't been a big part of this Phillies season.
He made six starts early in the season, hurt his elbow and pretty much fell off the radar screen as the Phillies stormed through the National League. When he came back two weeks ago, it seemed like little more than a chance to see how his elbow was doing while also resting up other pitchers for October.
A funny thing happened on the way to being left off the postseason roster, though. Blanton's pitched well -- one run over five innings -- while Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes have raised some concerns about their fitness for the playoff run after being so reliable for most of the regular season.
The first question is whether the 25th man on the roster should be a pitcher. Indications have been that the Phils preffered a seventh bench player to a seventh reliever, but the issues with Bastardo and Stutes and the unlikelihood that Pete Orr would actually add anything in a bench role have made that decision a bit hazier.
Next comes figuring out if Blanton is even the most worthy addition to the pen. David Herndon has been with the big club all year and has an ERA of 1.99 since the start of May. He hasn't pitched many high leverage innings, but five months of good work should count for something when you're comparing Herndon to Blanton.
Blanton's history beyond this season has to come into play as well. He's pitched big games before, winning two of them on the way to the 2008 title and, of course, he hit that home run against Tampa. His hitting skills probably won't be needed, but it isn't like you can give Herndon or Orr the nod over Blanton in that category.
Ultimately, the answer has to come down to which pitcher Manuel is going to trust in a high leverage situation. If Blanton's experience makes him the guy Manuel would choose in a tough spot, then he should get the nod. If Herndon's more extensive body of work this season gives him the edge, then Blanton should stay fresh in case he's needed down the line.
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And if Manuel isn't actually willing to use either one of them, then he should use the spot with another bench player. With Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick, the Phillies are well stocked in case they should have a pitcher knocked out in the early innings. Concern about Stutes and Bastardo are all well and good, but those concerns don't mean a thing if the players you bring in as insurance never get into a game.
So that's the one last decision to make. It isn't a game breaker, but the playoffs have a way of forcing you to use every bit of your roster. What seems like an afterthought now could wind up costing or winning you a game down the road, which should make Manuel think a little harder about the last man he brings to the NLDS.