PHILADELPHIA -- Joe Blanton had waited a long time for Thursday night.
He had been on the dais with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels when the Phillies introduced their star-studded rotation on the first day of Spring Training in 2011. He found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated just a few weeks later. But Blanton never had an opportunity to truly enjoy pitching with one of the greatest rotations in baseball history as he spent most of the season on the disabled list with an injured right elbow.
But Blanton rehabbed, pitched a bit in September and came to Spring Training in February in good spirits and good health. He finally returned to the mound as a starter -- making his first true start as a member of the rotation since May 14 -- and threw very well in a 3-1 victory over the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park.
"It has been a while, huh?" Blanton said.
Blanton, who allowed three hits, one run, one walk and struck out three in seven innings, helped the Phillies win their first series of the season and improve to 3-3. The Phils are 13-3 in Blanton's last 16 starts at home.
"It was fun to have Joe on the mound starting again," Carlos Ruiz said.
"You have to give credit to Blanton," said Marlins bench coach Joey Cora, who is managing while Ozzie Guillen serves a five-game suspension. "He pitched extremely well. He was there with [Mark] Buehrle pitch by pitch." Actually, he was better.
"Fastball command and good defense," Blanton said. "I thought those were the two keys."
Phillies second baseman Freddy Galvis made a nice sliding stop to prevent a hit by Buehrle in the third. Giancarlo Stanton ripped a ball at Ty Wigginton with two outs in the fourth. The ball deflected off Wigginton, but Galvis got himself in position to handle the rebound and threw the ball to Blanton at first for the third out.
Galvis committed an error in the sixth, although the ball took a bad bounce at the last second. He made up for it when he snared a line drive from Stanton for the second out. Morrison then hit a ball to the left of the mound. Blanton picked up the ball and threw wide to first. Wigginton had to extend himself to make the catch, but managed to keep his foot on the bag to record the third out to strand two runners on base.
"I wasn't sure if I was going to reach it or if it was going to stick in the glove, but I was glad I stayed on the bag because it would have been a couple runs," Wigginton said.
Wigginton, like almost everybody that has seen him play, has been impressed with Galvis' defense.
"It seems every single day, he's out there doing something with that glove that really helps win a ballgame," Wigginton said. "You really appreciate watching a guy that is that talented with the glove."
The Phils came up with just enough hits against one of the Marlins' key offseason acquisitions to pick up the win.
Buehrle (0-2) retired the first nine batters he faced, then Shane Victorino hit a 0-2 curveball for a home run to left field in the fourth to hand the Phillies a 1-0 lead. It was Victorino's first home run of the season.
The Phillies picked up another run in the third when John Mayberry Jr. singled to left field to score Hunter Pence from second base.
Blanton allowed a run in the fifth to make it 2-1, but Wigginton homered in the seventh to give the Phils a little breathing room. Chad Qualls pitched a scoreless eighth and Jonathan Papelbon pitched a scoreless ninth to pick up his second save.
Through the season's first six games, Phillies starting pitchers have a 1.60 ERA, the best mark in baseball.
Blanton, who becomes a free agent following the season, hopes to be a part of the rotation's success the entire season this time. He has said since the beginning of Spring Training that he has felt no pain or tightness or soreness in his elbow. He said he feels strong. Those are encouraging signs for a guy that is arguably the best fifth starter in baseball.
Thursday was a positive step.
"As a pitcher, being around a little bit for where your stuff is and how you feel," Blanton said. "By the end of spring, I had a good feel that my stuff was pretty good and physically I felt good. I had a lot of positives coming out of spring and I took it through tonight, and hopefully I can keep it going."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.