Dodgers sign Joe Blanton to fill long-relief role.

Joe Blanton

Joe Blanton made 10 starts for the Dodgers in 2012, but will pitch as a reliever in his return to Los Angeles. (Getty Images)

The Dodgers have signed pitcher Joe Blanton, bringing back the 35-year-old as a long reliever — a role he thrived in last year — on a one-year, $4 million contract.

Blanton briefly retired in 2014 when he flamed out as a starting pitcher for the Oakland A’s Triple-A affiliate. In 2013, his last full season as a starting pitcher, Blanton went 2-14 with a 6.04 earned-run average for the Angels.

In 2015, the right-hander re-surfaced as a relief pitcher with the Kansas City Royals, who sold his contract to the Pittsburgh Pirates in July. His combined stats for the two teams: A 2.84 earned-run average in 36 games — 32 out of the bullpen — over 76 innings. Blanton struck out 79 batters against only 16 walks.

The Philadelphia Phillies traded Blanton to the Dodgers in August 2012. He went 2-4 with a 4.99 ERA in 10 starts. After the season, he signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Angels.

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Ten Dodgers become free agents.

The Dodgers declined to exercise the 2013 club options on Todd Coffey, Juan Rivera and Matt Treanor.

They join another seven players who became free agents today: Brandon League, Shane Victorino, Randy Choate, Jamey Wright, Joe Blanton, Adam Kennedy and Bobby Abreu.

In other words, no big names or surprises for the Dodgers on the first day of free agency. Players can only sign with new teams beginning at 9 p.m. Friday. Between now and then, the Dodgers can re-sign any of their in-house free agents, and they’ve already opened discussions with League’s representatives.

General manager Ned Colletti said that he would like to bring back Choate and Wright, as well, to keep intact a bullpen that finished the 2012 season strong.

Coffey, Rivera and Treanor now fall into the category of Victorino, Kennedy and Abreu: highly unlikely to be on the roster next season.

Blanton is an interesting case. The Dodgers gave him what amounted to a 10-start audition in August and September. In five starts at home, the 31-year-old right-hander went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA. Not bad. In five road starts he was 1-3, 6.51. Bad.

I guess that makes Blanton a “known quantity” for a team that is looking to add a starting pitcher. But looking at a free-agent market that now includes Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster, Kyle Lohse  and Hiroki Kuroda (another “known quantity”), the Dodgers probably figure they can do better.

The hot stove is just warming up.

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Blanton would start in Game 163.

Joe Blanton will start for the Dodgers if they can force a game 163 on Thursday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Manager Don Mattingly made the announcement prior to Tuesday’s game against the San Francisco Giants.

“If we get to that game, we’re going to be feeling really good,” Mattingly said. “Joe’s been throwing the ball good. Joe’s pitched in the World Series. We’re going to have the freshest arm.”

A lot would have to go right for that to happen — the Dodgers must beat the San Francisco Giants today and tomorrow, while the Cincinnati Reds must beat the St. Louis Cardinals tonight and tomorrow. If the Dodgers win that game, they will have to turn around and fly to Atlanta for the wild-card game, which factored into Mattingly’s decision not to pitch Josh Beckett on three days’ rest.

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Padres scratch Quentin for series opener.

Carlos Quentin was scratched from the Padres’ lineup for Monday’s game against the Dodgers because of irritation in his right knee.

Quentin was originally scheduled to bat fourth and play left field. He’ll be replaced in left by Chris Denorfia, who bats fifth, while Yonder Alonso moves from fifth to fourth in the batting order.

The longtime Chicago White Sox outfielder has been on something of a tear since Aug. 18. Since then, he has a .969 OPS with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 13 games, including an eight-game hitting streak during that span.

Quentin has no hits and one walk in three career plate appearances against Dodgers starter Joe Blanton.

Denorfia has hit .135 (13-for-96) in his career against the Dodgers.

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Don Mattingly’s toughest decision down the stretch.

Conventional baseball wisdom holds that pitching takes on greater importance in the playoffs than the regular season, and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has lived it.

When he was the New York Yankees’ batting coach from 2004-07, he recalled, “(Robinson) Cano was hitting ninth. It was dangerous. But those clubs didn’t win.”

Mattingly believes the reason was simple.

“We didn’t pitch enough,” he said. “Playoffs are a whole different animal. Short series are always tough, even a seven-game.”

Assuming the Dodgers qualify, who will begin the playoffs in the starting rotation? Mattingly ducked the question for a second straight day Sunday and he can for the moment, with only five healthy starters on the active roster. He won’t be able to if/when Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett, Joe Blanton, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang are all healthy.

This could be the manager’s biggest decision all season, if not in his brief career.
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