Joe Blanton has started to show signs of improvement during a dreadful season. But with the way Pedro Alvarez has been swinging the bat lately - and historically against Blanton - the right-hander could be a mistake away from another rough outing.
Blanton (1-10, 5.62 ERA) has suffered more losses than any AL pitcher, though he's recorded quality starts in four of his last five outings. Only three of his first nine were quality starts.
He received an eight-day layoff between his last two starts, dedicating time to polish his fastball command with pitching coach Mike Butcher . He responded by striking out a career-high 11 for the second time in three starts while giving up two runs over 6 2-3 innings in a 3-2 loss to Seattle on Tuesday.
Both runs came on solo homers, however, and he's allowed seven home runs through his last four starts. Blanton gave up eight homers in his previous 10 starts.
"The outcome of a game is kind of out of your hands sometimes, but your job is to keep it right there," Blanton said. "I've given up home runs before. You know how to come back."
He also needed a season-high 118 pitches to get through the outing and walked two.
"Throwing strikes is one thing, and commanding the zone is another," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Joe has the ability to throw strikes. It's just making that quality pitch in a good zone that has kind of wavered a little bit in his game, and that's when he's had trouble."
Blanton has had mixed results against the Pirates, going 2-2 with a 4.66 over six starts, but the most recent was a disaster. He was charged with eight runs and seven hits - including three homers - over 4 1-3 innings in a 10-6 loss at Pittsburgh on Aug. 16, while with the Dodgers.
Alvarez, who homered in his third straight game for the first time in his career Saturday to power the Pirates (45-30) to a 6-1 win Saturday, accounted for one of those home runs. He's 6 for 9 with two homers and a double when facing Blanton.
The Pittsburgh slugger also doubled Saturday against the Angels (33-42) to extend his hitting streak to seven games, during which he's batting .393 with four homers and 12 RBIs.
"This is the way we should come out and play every day. We don't have to depend on just one or two guys. Everybody's coming through," McCutchen said. "To have a complete lineup like that from top to bottom is always fun."
The Pirates will start right-hander Charlie Morton (1-1, 1.74), who yielded three hits over 5 1-3 innings in Pittsburgh's 4-0 win at Cincinnati on Tuesday, his first victory in his second start since undergoing Tommy John surgery over a year ago.
"For him, second time back in the major leagues after a year, go through five innings, get into the sixth inning against those guys, we were way good with that and we'll move on from there," manager Clint Hurdle told the team's official website.
Morton was a member of the Braves when he won his only start against the Angels on June 14, 2008, giving up three runs in six innings.
|June 09, 2013||A.J. Burnett||15-Day DL||Strained right calf|
|June 06, 2013||Jared Hughes||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|June 06, 2013||Wandy Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Left forearm tightness|
|June 03, 2013||Phil Irwin||60-Day DL||Right arm fatigue|
|June 03, 2013||Jeanmar Gomez||15-Day DL||Right forearm tightness|
|May 28, 2013||Jose Contreras||15-Day DL||Lower back inflammation|
|Los Angeles Angels|
|June 21, 2013||Jason Vargas||15-Day DL||Blood clot, left arm|
|June 21, 2013||Josh Hamilton||Day-to-Day||Right wrist soreness|
|June 10, 2013||Robert Coello||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|June 02, 2013||Garrett Richards||Day-to-Day||Left game - Ankle injury|
|May 28, 2013||Josh Hamilton||Day-to-Day||Back spasms|
|May 27, 2013||Sean Burnett||15-Day DL||Left elbow inflammation|
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Pittsburgh closer Jason Grilli and Los Angeles Angels counterpart Ernesto Frieri each gave up three runs Sunday. The final outcome came down to one pitch that Mike Trout missed.
Pedro Alvarez homered for the fourth straight game, Starling Marte capped a three-run ninth inning with a tying single, and the Pirates added four more in the 10th to beat the Angels 10-9 and complete their first interleague sweep on the road.
Trailing 6-3 entering the ninth, the Pirates pulled even against Frieri - his second blown save in 19 attempts. The right-hander issued a leadoff walk to Neil Walker , ending his string of 22 consecutive batters retired, then gave up a single to Gaby Sanchez and a one-out grounder by pinch-hitter Andrew McCutchen that scored Walker.
Next came a pinch-hit RBI double by Russell Martin over the head of rookie left fielder J.B. Shuck, followed by Marte's clutch hit.
"I got to hang out in the air conditioning in here for about six innings, so I felt fresh when I got out there," Martin said with a grin. "But our guys battled back and had great ABs collectively, top to bottom, and it was fun to be a part of. We have no quit, that's for sure."
Martin drove in the final run - and ultimately the decisive one - with an RBI single in the 10th.
"Ernie's been throwing the ball as well as anybody in the league," losing pitcher Kevin Jepsen said. "Anybody can have a rough game. When you're pitching in the back of the `pen when the game is on the line, it's just more magnified. He was one strike away a couple of times, so it wasn't like he had no shot. Sometimes that's how close you come. But Ernie is very resilient and he'll be fine."
Alvarez led off the 10th against Jepsen (0-2) with a double to center field over Trout's head - seven innings after Trout had shifted over from left after an injury to Peter Bourjos .
A pair of one-out walks, one of them intentional to Walker, loaded the bases and brought up Travis Snider . He promptly lined a single to left that bounced over Shuck's head for an error and all the way to the fence as all three runners scored.
"When those guys get guys on base, they take advantage. That's why they're playing as well as they are," Jepsen said.
Grilli closed it out despite giving up five hits, including RBI singles by Alberto Callaspo , Shuck and Brendan Harris . The right-hander finally ended it by striking out Trout with the potential tying and winning runs at third and second.
"We pushed all the chips in and got what we needed to get from our guys - and at the end of the day, the gunslinger got it done," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Mark Melancon (2-1) pitched a perfect inning for the win.
Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton was charged with six runs - three earned - and four hits through 5 2-3 innings in his third start of the season. The right-hander missed the first 65 games while recovering from elbow surgery last June.
Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez , the team's No. 1 draft pick in 2009, went 1 for 4 in his major league debut - as the designated hitter.
His first time up he hit a ground-rule double against Joe Blanton that struck the 18-foot wall in right field halfway up and became wedged at the bottom of the out-of-town scoreboard. The ball remained there until the end of the half-inning, when a maintenance worker climbed a ladder and plucked it out before giving it to Pirates right fielder Garrett Jones .
"When I walked up to the plate, my legs started shaking uncontrollably," Sanchez said. "I told (Angels catcher Chris) Iannetta: `I can't stop shaking. I don't know what to do.' And he said: `Just breathe. Just breathe.' So I took one step out of the box and took a breath, but that didn't help. Then Blanton threw me a ball that I could handle. It felt really good off the bat, and I could not stop smiling. I didn't think I was going to get the ball back. I thought it was going to be stuck up there."
Blanton, who is 1-10, allowed three runs - one earned - and six hits in 7 1-3 innings. The right-hander struck out six, walked none and retired his last 14 batters. His only victory was May 23 during the Angels' four-game sweep in Kansas City.
"Sometimes you have those years," Blanton said. "Baseball is a crazy game sometimes, and you've just got to keep executing out there and doing your work between starts and don't give up no matter what happens."
For the third straight game, Alvarez homered his first time up after tagging Jered Weaver on Friday and Jerome Williams on Saturday. He is hitting .272 with 19 homers and 50 RBIs over his last 55 games, after batting .089 with one RBI in his first 13 games.
"He's got his confidence back," Martin said.
The Angels pulled ahead 5-1 in the second, parlaying errors by second baseman Walker and third baseman Alvarez into five runs - three of which were unearned.
Pittsburgh came back with a pair of unearned runs in the third.
Bourjos hurt his left thumb on a takeout slide and came out of the game. Newly acquired Brad Hawpe entered in right as the Angeles shuffled outfielders and then drove in the team's sixth run with a two-out single in the fourth.
NOTES: Albert Pujols grounded out with the bases loaded, making him 1 for 9 in those situations this season. ... Blanton is 0-12 with six no-decisions in the last 18 games in which he's allowed a home run. ... Pittsburgh's only other three-game sweeps against AL clubs were at home against the White Sox in 1997, the Indians in 2001, and the Royals last June. ... Sanchez is one of eight first-round picks on Pittsburgh's 25-man roster. ... Angel Stadium was the site of Morton's major league debut on June 14, 2008, when he pitched for Atlanta and won 9-4. ... Pirates RHP Duke Welker made his big league debut with a perfect eighth inning. ... A home run Tuesday night in Seattle would make Alvarez the first Pirates batter to connect in five straight games since Jose Castillo in May 2006. Alvarez moved up from fifth to third in the batting order with McCutchen and Martin out of the starting lineup. ... Pirates LHP Jeff Locke puts his NL-best 2.01 ERA on the line in the opener of the two-game set at Safeco Field.