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PHI@ATL: Blanton goes the distance, shuts out Braves

ATLANTA -- It seemed like Joe Blanton never stopped moving.

He worked swiftly in an impressive 4-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Thursday at Turner Field. He worked so efficiently -- the game lasted two hours, two minutes -- and so effectively -- he threw his first shutout since June 2, 2007 -- that he had no chance to complete his postgame workout before the clubhouse opened to reporters.

So rather than stop or make everybody wait, he happily answered questions while finishing his 15-minute ride on the stationary bike in the middle of the clubhouse.

"I think so," said Blanton, when asked if this was one of the best games of his career. "Just the fact that a lot of guys pitched last night and the 'pen had to go deep. I take that as the biggest thing. Some guys got some rest today."

Roy Halladay blew a six-run lead before the bullpen blew a four-run lead in Wednesday's 15-13 loss in 11 innings. It was a tough loss for a team hoping to get above .500 for the first time since Opening Day. But the Phillies still had a chance to win the series on Thursday.

They just needed Blanton to deliver.

He allowed just three hits and struck out six, getting the Phils (13-13) back to .500 for the sixth time this season, and keeping them no worse than 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals in the National League East. The win improved Blanton to 3-3 with a 2.83 ERA. He has allowed just two runs in 16 1/3 innings over his last two starts.

"He pitched as well as I've ever seen him," Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. "We couldn't get anything going."

"I told somebody one time, this is the best I've felt mechanically and physically since 2007," Blanton said. "Honestly. In '08, I felt fine. I didn't have any problems, but I didn't throw as well as I wanted to. In '09, I felt fine. But after that, it could just be because I felt the last two years were just so far off mechanically because of the oblique and elbow [injuries]. I just haven't felt good in two years. I feel really good now."

That Blanton feels his best since 2007 makes sense, because he had not thrown a complete game or shutout since that season with Oakland.

Blanton missed most of last season with the Phillies because of an injured right elbow. He said he spent most of his time refining and improving his delivery. That has given him a little more late life on his pitches.

"I feel like I'm letting the ball go farther up front," Blanton said. "That's making later life. Whether the velocity is up or the same, the late life is the key. Hitters tell you that too. They say they have trouble with late life."

The Phils gave Blanton an early 1-0 lead. Jimmy Rollins hit a bloop single to right-center to lead off the first inning. He moved to second on Juan Pierre's bunt single, advanced to third on Shane Victorino's flyout, and scored on Hunter Pence's sacrifice fly to center field.

Laynce Nix hit a solo home run to center field in the seventh inning to make it 2-0. Nix is hitting .419 (13-for-31) with six doubles, two home runs and 10 RBIs since starting the season 0-for-7. Victorino then hit a two-run home run to right field in the ninth inning to cap the scoring. It was Victorino's first homer and just his second extra-base hit this season hitting left-handed.

The only that went wrong for the Phillies the entire afternoon came in the eighth inning, when Blanton got doubled off first base after Rollins flied out to left.

Blanton inexplicably jogged all the way to second, rounding the bag toward third before he realized his error. He never had a chance to get back to first base in time.

"Yeah, speed-up rules," Blanton joked. "No, I got on and I told myself, 'There is one out. Make the ball be on the ground. Freeze on anything in the air.' They played behind me for some reason. Then, it was strike one and he was a little bit further behind me. I said, 'OK, there's two outs and go on anything.' It just changed on one pitch. It was just one of those mind somewhere else things."

But Blanton stayed on task in the eighth and ninth innings, giving the Phillies momentum before a big weekend series at Nationals Park. The Phils have won six of their last nine games, hitting .279 and averaging 5.4 runs per game in that stretch.

They will need a productive against a talented and dominant Nationals rotation.

The Nats have offered some bulletin board material this year. They also have designated this weekend "Take Back the Park," designed to keep Phillies fans from making their annual pilgrimage to the nation's capital.

It should be fun.

"We'll be all right," manager Charlie Manuel said of this weekend's series. "We'll be OK. We're going to show up. I don't think we're going to be scared. I know I'm not. We'll see."

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