In April 2014, right-hander Joe Blanton was done with baseball.
He made two minor-league starts for the Athletics, who had signed Blanton after he had been released by the Angels, and that was it. He didn’t touch a baseball again until December.
That’s why Saturday felt so good to the newest member of the Royals.
“As of right now it’s satisfying,” Blanton said. “Now the goal is to carry it over to here and have some success.”
The Royals selected Blanton’s contract from Class AAA Omaha and he was in uniform for Saturday’s game against the Yankees.
And he pitched immediately. Blanton opened the sixth inning of Saturday’s game with the Royals’ trailing by three and on their way to a 5-1 loss.
The conditions weren’t ideal. Rain had started to fall, and the first batter Blanton faced, Stephen Drew, laced a double. He went to third on a sacrifice.
But Blanton left Drew there when Chris Young’s grounder bounced off Mike Moustakas’s glove to shortstop Alcides Escobar and his throw nipped Young.
Blanton got out of the seventh in similar fashion, with the third out off the bat of Chase Headley bouncing off first baseman Eric Hosmer’s glove to Omar Infante at second, who threw back to Hosmer.
If that wasn’t enough, the eighth inning ended when Infante ranged to his right, backhanded Jacoby Ellsbury’s grounder and glove-flipped it to Escobar, whose bare-handed catch was just in time to record the out at second.
Blanton’s fortune ran out in the ninth when Alex Rodriguez smacked his 10th home run of the season, and No. 664 in his career.
Still, Blanton provided four innings in relief of Danny Duffy in his first game in the majors since Sept. 3, 2013.
Blanton could opt out of his deal by Friday if he wasn’t with the Royals, who sent Aaron Brooks to Omaha after Friday’s game.
Also, the Royals recalled left-handed pitcher Brian Flynn and placed him on the 60-day disabled list because of a latissimus dorsi tear. That made room on the 40-man roster for Blanton.
After signing a minor-league deal with the Royals in February, Blanton performed well in spring training. At Omaha, he went 3-2 with a 3.89 ERA while holding opponents to a .227 batting average. Six of his seven appearances were starts.
Blanton, a 10-year big-league veteran, was 85-89 for four teams. He won a World Series game for the Phillies in 2008 and was a teammate of current Royals reliever Ryan Madson on Phillies teams that went to the postseason from 2008-11.
But Blanton went 2-14 in 2013 with the Angels and believed his career was over. He returned to his home near Nashville, Tenn., to begin his post-baseball life.
It turned out that Blanton had a new neighbor. Moving in five houses away was Zach Duke, a veteran pitcher coming off his first season with the White Sox. They didn’t know each other previously but became friends playing catch.
“We were kind of hanging out, and he asked about throwing,” Blanton said. “I wasn’t playing but I was pretty sure I could get back to him somehow.
“I was enjoying it. My arm was feeling pretty good. I wasn’t having any physical problems, so I said let’s see if I can enjoy the game again and see what happens.”
In early February, Blanton’s agent arranged a scout day at a local college, where Blanton threw a bullpen session. Soon after, he signed with the Royals.
Long and middle relief is the early projection for Blanton, Royals manager Ned Yost said.
“He’s got great experience and knows how to pitch,” Yost said.