SCOTTSDALE — Clayton Blackburn can only remember being hit by one line drive in all his years pitching. On Wednesday, in the first appearance of the biggest spring of his career, Blackburn was plunked twice.
The right-handed prospect got five outs in the middle of Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Angels, but he was pulled before reaching the planned two innings. Blackburn took a liner off the left shin in the fourth inning and was put on the ground in the fifth when Cliff Pennington singled off his right calf.
“I’ve gotten hit once in my entire life,” he said later, smiling. “I thought, ‘What the hell is going on?’”
Blackburn threw a warmup pitch after the second liner and wanted to stay in the game, but manager Bruce Bochy insisted that his day was done.
“That’s it, you know,” Bochy said later. “You can’t wait for that third one, but he threw well. He could have gotten out of it.”
Bochy had already done his part to make sure the day was a special one for Blackburn, a 23-year-old who dominated the Triple-A Pacific Coast League last year. The staff put Blackburn in the first spring game on purpose, wanting to reward him for his big 2015 season and make amends for not calling him up in September when the bigger needs were elsewhere. Bochy appreciated the way Blackburn competed last season after the death of his older brother, Hank, in March.
“He didn’t get called up last year but he did a heck of a job, a terrific job,” Bochy said.
As a 22-year-old, Blackburn led the hitter-friendly league with a 2.85 ERA. He enters this spring as the seventh starter, and he’ll have a shot to win the long relief slot left open by Yusmeiro Petit’s departure. Blackburn said he couldn’t wait to call his parents when pitching coach Dave Righetti told him he’d get two relief innings in the first spring game.
Blackburn had hoped to get this experience out of the way last spring but he felt shoulder soreness after a live BP session. That made Wednesday’s harrowing experience a bit easier to take.
“I made it past the first live BP this year,” Blackburn said. “Every day from here is one more day than last year.”