Butler, trio of relievers shut out Helena

Eddie Butler really doesn’t mind when runners are in scoring position. In fact, he kind of prefers that situation when he’s on the mound.

“It’s just my mindset. I would rather pitch with a runner on third the whole time,” Butler said. “I think it makes me pitch better, makes me focus a lot more. You’re at third base, I can’t let you score. Sorry.”

The Helena Brewers managed a mere five base runners against him Tuesday night in the Grand Junction Rockies’ 6-0 win at Suplizio Field. Only one got as far as third, and that was on a wild pitch in the second inning after the second of five singles against the ace right-hander.

The next two batters? Struck out.

“He was always in command. One thing he’s done extremely well this year, when there are runners in scoring position, he rises to the occasion,” Grand Junction manager Tony Diaz said. “If you look, he doesn’t strike out many guys for the stuff he has, but the punch-outs come when there are guys in scoring position.”

Runners on first and second in the fourth with two out? Ground ball to short.

“When he’s pitching, the defense is going to show up,” right fielder Julian Yan said. “He’s going to get ground balls, ground balls, ground balls.”

Leadoff single in the fifth? Three straight batters retired, stranding Michael Turay at second.

“That’s the key to winning games,” Butler said of throwing his fastball, which touched 98 mph and was consistently in the mid-90s, down in the strike zone. “At home I have. I actually located the fastball and it worked out. That’s the key to winning.”

The bullpen followed suit, with Patrick Johnson, on his 24th birthday, retiring the Brewers in order in the seventh, Raul Fernandez allowing only a harmless leadoff single in the eighth, and Scott Oberg shutting it down in the ninth in a 1-2-3 inning.

Butler was so efficient — no runs, five hits, five strikeouts, no walks — that the two runs Ashley Graeter drove in on a base hit up the middle in the first inning would have been plenty. As it was, the Rockies had only five hits, but three produced all of their runs.

Matt Wessinger walked to lead off the bottom of the first, and David Dahl extended his hitting streak to 26 games with a base hit to right on a perfectly executed hit-and-run, with Wessinger scooting to third. Graeter drove them both in with his base hit.

“It makes me look like a genius when they execute,” Diaz said. “When they don’t, people are wondering what’s going on. When they execute everybody says, ‘Wow, that’s a great move.’ ” After the first, the pitchers ruled the game. Ryan Gibbard allowed only four base runners from the second through the fifth innings for the Brewers, but the Rockies (28-26, 7-9) got to reliever Damien Magnifico in the later innings.

Max White hit an oppositefield home run to left in the seventh, his second as a professional as he continues to climb out of his earlier hitting slump.

“I stopped trying to press and prove to everybody what I can do,” White said. “Everybody knows what I can do. That’s why I’m here. I’m trying to have fun and enjoy myself more rather than trying to prove myself.”

And in the eighth, after walks to Graeter and Jeff Popick, Julian Yan lined his 13th home run of the season over the wall in right-center to give Oberg a sixrun cushion.

Butler (6-1) now has 39 strikeouts and eight walks in 49 innings of work. In five games at Suplizio, he’s thrown 24 2/3 innings, allowing one run, 16 hits, with 20 strikeouts and three walks.

In his last outing at Orem, Butler walked four, as many as he’d walked all season. The way he threw Tuesday showed that road game was far from the norm for the Radford University product.

“Anybody’s going to have a bad outing every now and then,” Diaz said. “Even the best ones do. As long as you learn from that, you can use that as a learning experience and turn it into a positive. The kind of kid he is, that’s Eddie.”


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