- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

CLEARWATER, FLA. (AP) - On a staff full of aces, Joe Blanton may be the wild card.

Blanton is easily overlooked when people talk about the Philadelphia Phillies having one of the all-time best starting rotations in baseball. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee have three Cy Young Awards. Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels have postseason MVP trophies on their mantels.

Blanton, the chubby right-hander with the baby face, is the extra man. He knows it, too.

“Everybody forgets about me,” the 30-year-old Blanton said with a smile.

Blanton was the No. 4 starter on the 2008 World Series championship team. He hit a homer and earned the win in Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Rays.

But on the first day of spring training when Blanton sat at a table with the other four starters, his past accomplishments hardly stood out to anyone. A beat writer asked Hamels how it felt to be the only one with a championship ring.

“He’s got one, too,” Hamels said, looking at Blanton.

Everyone laughed. So did Blanton.

“I know you guys forget about me,” he said.

The fact that Blanton is in camp with the Phillies is somewhat surprising. When the Phillies stunned the baseball world by signing Lee to a $120 million, five-year contract in December, it was assumed Blanton would be the odd man out to cut salary. He’s due to earn $17 million over the next two years. That’s a lot of money for a No. 5 starter.

Blanton still could get dealt before the season opener, especially if a team loses one of its middle-of-the-rotation pitchers and is willing to make an attractive offer. For now, he’s planning on helping the Phillies get to another World Series.

“As far as expectations and going somewhere else, sometimes you can’t really think about that,” Blanton said. “All I’m worried about is going out and trying to win another World Series with Philadelphia. I can’t worry about the other part. That’s the business part. That’s what the people upstairs are for, and they handle that.

“I love it here. Hope I stay here. Sometimes that’s the nature of the business and things like that happen that are out of your control. Like with Cliff, I’m sure he didn’t want to leave or he wouldn’t have come back, but it’s out of his hands and there wasn’t anything he could do about it.”

In 2 1/2 seasons with the Phillies, Blanton is 25-14 with a 4.38 ERA. He’s 2-0 in eight postseason games, including two relief appearances. Blanton was 9-6 with a 4.82 ERA last year. He had career lows in starts (28) and innings pitched (175 2-3) because he missed time with an oblique injury. Blanton started slow, but finished strong. He was 6-0 with a 3.42 ERA in his last 14 games.

Even with a star-studded surrounding cast, Blanton is a valuable guy on this staff. He’s won 16 games once with Oakland in 2006, and won at least 12 games three other times. He’s twice pitched more than 200 innings, including 230 in ‘07.

“Depth’s very important,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “During the course of the year, injuries play a part in your rotation and your pitching staff and that includes the bullpen. You go back and look at the last 3-4 years and I think every team in baseball had that and I think anytime you’ve got depth and quality depth, I think that’s what really balances our your pitching.”

If he stays, Blanton can only benefit from pitching behind such talented starters. Though rotation plans often get switched around, he would have the advantage against most other No. 5 starters in the league.

“Hopefully, the other lineup falls asleep and thinks they have to face these four guys and I’ll just kind of slip right in,” Blanton joked. “But, no, it’s great to be a part of it.”

Blanton’s personality fits in with the other starters. They don’t have big egos and their top priority is winning the World Series.

“Me personally, I’m not big on attention, and I don’t think these other four guys are either,” Blanton said. “I don’t think they’re the one that wants to stand out and say, ‘Look, I’m the head of this rotation.’ It doesn’t matter to me. Winning is the biggest part for me.”

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