A shaky start
Butler battles, but takes the loss in debut with Rockies
DENVER — Eddie Butler’s debut was not the one he dreamed about.
It was, however, more than enough to impress his boss.
“I think he’s got a very bright future in this league,” Colorado manager Walt Weiss said Friday night after the Rockies lost their eighth straight game, 7-2 to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Butler’s Major League Baseball debut.
“He showed big-time stuff. I think the Dodgers had some timely hits, so the line doesn’t look all that pretty, but (he has a) big-time arm and his fastball was beating the bat a lot of times. He showed a great change-up, good poise, good pace.
“He’s gonna help us.”
Butler, the first Grand Junction Rockie to play for the big club, wasn’t over the moon about his first game, but also knows it was just that — his first game.
“I think I can pitch a little better than that,” he said. “When it came down to it, I didn’t make enough pitches and they were able to find some holes and score some runs. I missed a few times over the heart of the plate and they don’t miss it here.”
Dee Gordon got his attention right off the bat, lacing the second pitch of Butler’s big-league career into the right-field corner for a triple.
Butler’s first pitch in the majors, for the record, was a 96-mph fastball that was high and outside. Yeah, he was a little amped.
“I think that first pitch was about the only one I overthrew there in the first inning,” he said. “I just kind of settled down after that first one. Unfortunately, that ball gets down the line and ends up being a triple and that hurt.”
That first hit out of the way, Butler calmed down, pounding the strike zone with his fastball, which reached 96 mph, and his slider, through the first four innings. He also threw some nasty change-ups, including one that fooled Yasiel Puig, who went 0 for 3 against Butler with two strikeouts.
“I made him feel uncomfortable was the big thing,” Butler said of Puig. “The first time I pitched him a little backwards and the second time I think that was in the back of his mind and I was able to freeze him with a fastball later on.”
As long as he kept the ball down, Butler produced ground balls, a couple of them finding the outfield just out of the range of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who came up with yet another jump-throw out on a ball hit in the hole behind third by Justin Turner in the second.
Of Butler’s 16 outs, nine came on ground balls.
“He showed the ability to get a ground ball and that’s gonna help him down the road to throw double-play balls, but at the same time he’s got a power arm,” Weiss said.
Location was Butler’s problem in the middle innings, when he gave up three consecutive hits, including a fifth-inning leadoff double to opposing pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and another triple to Gordon, which put him in a 4-0 hole.
The Rockies sent him back out for the sixth inning, and as he stood on the top step of the dugout, he took a deep breath before sprinting back to the mound. He gave up a leadoff single to Turner and walked Drew Butera. After a sacrifice bunt, Gordon rapped a two-run single to right-center. Butler walked Hanley Ramirez, which was the end of his night, leaving to a nice ovation from the crowd of 39,203.
“I don’t know if he was running out of gas, maybe a little adrenaline started to wear off by that time,” Weiss said. “But he was still throwing the ball well.”
His first big-league pitching line: 5 1/3 innings, 10 hits, six runs, all earned, three walks, two strikeouts. In all, he threw 87 pitches, 52 for strikes.
“It was efficient, but the problem was a lot of those efficient pitches were out over the middle of the plate,” Butler said. “That’s always been a big thing for me, to get contact early, the first three pitches, and I think in the first three innings I got through with 35, 40 pitches, but some of those pitches weren’t located as well as they could have been.”
Once again, the Rockies couldn’t get anything going offensively against Ryu until late, finally stringing some hits together in the sixth inning. Drew Stubbs hit a one-out home run to left, and with two out, Michael McKenry doubled. He scored on Charlie Culberson’s triple.
Now that the hype of his first start is out of the way, Butler hopes to settle into a routine, although he didn’t appear overwhelmed.
“I definitely wanted to have a better start than that and give the guys a chance to win,” he said. “Give up six runs in 5 1/3 is not bad, but it’s not great.”
So it wasn’t a dream start, but it was a start. And he learned plenty.
“That you can’t pitch over the middle of the plate,” he said, laughing.