Joe Blanton is now part of the Washington Nationals’ bullpen, offering right-handed depth but no relief to their closer situation.
The team announced Blanton’s signing on Thursday morning. He is a 36-year-old reliever who put together a surprising and effective season last year for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Blanton was 7-2 with a 2.48 ERA in 75 appearances for the Dodgers. As is typical with starters converted to relievers, the Dodgers were able to take an arm that is accustomed to throwing a lot of pitches and use it over and over.
He is a on a one-year contract that will pay $4 million. Blanton gives the Nationals another pitcher to go with Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen — two candidates to claim the open closer’s job — from the right side.
Blanton’s success from last season was rooted in his choice to rarely use his fastball. His career ERA of 4.35 runs counter to the solid work he did last season when pitching for one of the league’s top bullpens. Blanton threw his fastball a mere 30 percent of the time last season, according to Fangraphs. For his career, Blanton uses his fastball 52.6 percent of the time. Most of those years were spent as an ineffective but available starter.
The decline in fastball usage led to an uptick in sliders and curveballs. He had never thrown his slider harder than 86.8 mph he threw it on average last season.
Since converting to a relief role in 2015, Blanton has posted a 2.29 ERA. He has struck out 142 batters in 137.1 innings (9.31 SO/9.0) in 107 relief appearances. He has held opposing batters to a .207 average and allowed 0.72 home runs per nine innings.
Washington, which opens the season April 3 at home, appears set to find a closer from within, though it could still trade Derek Norris to loosen its logjam at catcher.
Catcher Spencer Kieboom was designated for assignment to make room for Blanton on the 40-man roster.
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