PHOENIX (AP) -Joe Blanton could quickly emerge as Oakland's new ace. It's a revolving job around this ever-changing organization.
Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, they've all held the title for the Athletics - and for those ``Big Three,'' it was at the same time. Then All-Star Dan Haren became that guy last year, only to be dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks in December.
Now, the burly Blanton, 6-foot-3 and 256 pounds, is set to take the mound when the A's open the season March 25 in Tokyo against the defending World Series champion Red Sox. And Boston is one of a handful of clubs that apparently have shown interest in acquiring the right-hander beginning his fourth full big league season.
``What you're looking for in a No. 1 guy is someone who will make all his starts and give you a chance to win,'' manager Bob Geren said. ``Joe did that last year. Joe was our most consistent guy last year.''
the Minnesota Twins back in June. He retired 19 of his final 20 batters to finish an impressive 108-pitch performance.
On Saturday, Blanton threw to hitters who stood in the batter's box but didn't take swings, a fast-forward step in the pitcher's preparation to start the season so early in Japan. Typically in the spring, Blanton would see hitters for the first time once the team's full squad was in camp next week.
``That will bridge the gap and get them comfortable earlier for Japan,'' Geren said.
The durable Blanton followed his 16-win season in 2006 with a 14-10 showing last season, posting a 3.95 ERA in a career-high 230 innings. He had 140 strikeouts to only 40 walks in 34 starts, pitched three complete games and allowed only 16 home runs.
Those kind of numbers at any age get you noticed, and Blanton just turned 27 in December.
He's been hearing about possible trades for about a year now, so knowing he could wind up in Beantown, the Bronx or Cincinnati before this season ends doesn't faze him.
Blanton has seen so many others leave town before him. And he was plenty busy this winter getting married and settling into his new home following a move from Kentucky to Tennessee.
it. I just kind of had the idea I was going to be here until they told me I wasn't. That was my whole mind-set. You're here until they tell you you're not. I don't look at it any other way.''
Teammate Dan Johnson heard the Blanton rumors on television only a couple of days before Oakland's pitchers and catchers reported to spring training Wednesday.
``It's crazy,'' Johnson said. ``But he's still with us.''
Blanton was a rookie in 2005 after Hudson and Mulder were traded in a three-day span that previous December. The A's adjusted, and he knows that will be the case again in 2008.
Right-hander Rich Harden is healthy and hopes to pitch a full season at the front of the rotation with Blanton after his last two seasons were shortened by injuries.
``It looks like a good rotation,'' Blanton said. ``Rich, if he's healthy, everybody knows what he can do. It's pretty much a given, he's going to be good.''
Chad Gaudin and Justin Duchscherer are slated to fill two other starting spots, and the fifth job is up for grabs this spring with a whopping seven pitchers in the mix.
With all the youngsters on the rebuilding A's, Blanton is one of the more experienced members of this roster - especially on the pitching staff. General manager Billy Beane is reloading the franchise's farm system to get back on track following the club's first losing season since 1998.
``I don't think I'm a veteran,'' Blanton said with a smile. ``You don't know what you're going to get, and it could be good. That's the fun of it.''

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