Joe Blanton has started to show signs of improvement during a dreadful season. But with the way Pedro Alvarez has been swinging the bat lately - and historically against Blanton - the right-hander could be a mistake away from another rough outing.
Still looking for his first home win, Blanton takes the mound as the Los Angeles Angels try to avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.
Blanton (1-10, 5.62 ERA) has suffered more losses than any AL pitcher, though he's recorded quality starts in four of his last five outings. Only three of his first nine were quality starts.
He received an eight-day layoff between his last two starts, dedicating time to polish his fastball command with pitching coach Mike Butcher. He responded by striking out a career-high 11 for the second time in three starts while giving up two runs over 6 2-3 innings in a 3-2 loss to Seattle on Tuesday.
Both runs came on solo homers, however, and he's allowed seven home runs through his last four starts. Blanton gave up eight homers in his previous 10 starts.
"The outcome of a game is kind of out of your hands sometimes, but your job is to keep it right there," Blanton said. "I've given up home runs before. You know how to come back."
He also needed a season-high 118 pitches to get through the outing and walked two.
"Throwing strikes is one thing, and commanding the zone is another," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Joe has the ability to throw strikes. It's just making that quality pitch in a good zone that has kind of wavered a little bit in his game, and that's when he's had trouble."
Blanton has had mixed results against the Pirates, going 2-2 with a 4.66 over six starts, but the most recent was a disaster. He was charged with eight runs and seven hits - including three homers - over 4 1-3 innings in a 10-6 loss at Pittsburgh on Aug. 16, while with the Dodgers.
Alvarez, who homered in his third straight game for the first time in his career Saturday to power the Pirates (45-30) to a 6-1 win Saturday, accounted for one of those home runs. He's 6 for 9 with two homers and a double when facing Blanton.
The Pittsburgh slugger also doubled Saturday against the Angels (33-42) to extend his hitting streak to seven games, during which he's batting .393 with four homers and 12 RBIs.
Andrew McCutchen and Gaby Sanchez also connected on home runs in the Pirates' fourth consecutive game with 10 or more hits.
"This is the way we should come out and play every day. We don't have to depend on just one or two guys. Everybody's coming through," McCutchen said. "To have a complete lineup like that from top to bottom is always fun."
The Pirates will start right-hander Charlie Morton (1-1, 1.74), who yielded three hits over 5 1-3 innings in Pittsburgh's 4-0 win at Cincinnati on Tuesday, his first victory in his second start since undergoing Tommy John surgery over a year ago.
"For him, second time back in the major leagues after a year, go through five innings, get into the sixth inning against those guys, we were way good with that and we'll move on from there," manager Clint Hurdle told the team's official website.
Morton was a member of the Braves when he won his only start against the Angels on June 14, 2008, giving up three runs in six innings.