Cincinnati Reds

Ex-Cat Blanton takes loss to Reds in stride

Joe Blanton, left, in his first start for the Angels, impressed Manager Mike Scioscia despite Thursday's loss.
Joe Blanton, left, in his first start for the Angels, impressed Manager Mike Scioscia despite Thursday's loss. AP

CINCINNATI — Thursday wasn't Joe Blanton's day.

The former University of Kentucky standout served up home runs to Shin-Soo Choo, Todd Frazier and Chris Heisey.

That was enough for the Cincinnati Reds to drop Blanton's Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 5-4 in the rubber game of a three-game season-opening series.

"He missed some spots ... and those guys squared up some balls and they hit them out of the park," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "But I think for the most part he was impressive in the zone, he changed speeds well. I really thought he pitched a little bit better than maybe his line score shows right now."

Blanton, 32, gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits over five innings. He struck out four, walked one and threw 63 of 89 pitches for strikes.

"I felt like I located pretty much most of the day," the right-hander said. "They had three homers — two of them were mistakes and I felt like I only made a handful all day, balls that I didn't throw where I wanted to. They just happened to sneak them out.

"And first pitch of the game, I got ambushed — threw it right where I wanted to. ... That was a good pitch, down and away."

Among those in Great American Ball Park was Blanton's former coach at Kentucky, Keith Madison.

"Joe is just a fierce competitor," Madison said before the game. "I remember watching him pitch (at UK) and feeling very confident that he would be able to make it to the big leagues. ... He had the stuff, no question. But he was so competitive.

"He was the only pitcher I ever coached that when I went out to make a pitching change, I would second-guess myself on the way to the mound because Joe would give me that look like 'you're not taking this ball out of my hand.' And, you know what, I believed him. He was an intimidating guy. But he was also a gentleman."

Scioscia will be getting the same look from Blanton.

"When I pitch, I want to finish every game," Blanton said. "Realistically, that's not going to happen. But I go in with the mind-set that when I start it, I want to finish it."

Thursday, Blanton surrendered at least three homers for a ninth time in his career.

Choo lined his first pitch to left for a 1-0 lead. The homer was Choo's first as a Red and his sixth career leadoff homer.

Frazier led off the second by lining a homer down the left-field line.

After Josh Hamilton's two-run single in the third inning tied the game at 2, Frazier just missed another homer in the fourth. The ball hit the top of the wall in left-center for a double, Frazier taking third when center fielder Mike Trout bobbled the ball. Frazier scored on Ryan Hanigan's sacrifice fly.

The Angels tied on Albert Pujols' fifth-inning sacrifice fly, but Heisey ripped a hanging slider for a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning for a 5-3 lead.

Blanton retired the next three batters, then was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.

"It's a long season. It just happened to happen out of the gate," Blanton said. "Whatever. Just keep plugging away."

Bronson Arroyo (1-0) and three relievers combined to strike out nine Angels. Over the three games, Reds pitchers struck out 36 — a Cincinnati record through the first three games of a season and an Angels record for any three-game set.

Blanton, signed as a free agent with the Angels last December, went 10-13 with a 4.71 ERA over 31 games with the Phillies and Dodgers last season. It marked the seventh time in eight full seasons that he pitched at least 175 innings and notched at least 10 wins.

Having reached the post-season in five of the last seven seasons, his goals are basic.

"Just stay healthy. Throw as many innings as I possibly can. Try to help the team win games and get in the playoffs," Blanton said. "I'm not big on trying to set personal goals out of the gate."

Washington Nationals at Reds

When: 7:10 p.m.

Pitchers: Nationals, Dan Haren (0-0); Reds, Homer Bailey (0-0)

TV: Fox Sports Ohio

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