Former GJ Rockie looking forward to first MLB start
DENVER — Two years ago Wednesday, Eddie Butler was watching television, hoping to hear his name called in the Major League Baseball amateur draft.
Fast forward to today, when Butler, the first-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies in 2012, will make his first big-league start at Coors Field.
Just like he planned.
“Two years was my plan,” Butler said Thursday, smiling all the while as television cameras and microphones were pointed his way after he arrived in Denver. “I wanted to be up here in two years, and to be able to do that is unreal. I’m happy with it. I just want to get out here and help the guys win.
“It’s a little crazy to think two years ago ... (Wednesday) was two years from draft day. It’s crazy to think how fast it’s happened, but I’ve made substantial strides from when I was in Rookie ball to where I am today. I think there are things I still need to work on that will be beneficial for me in the future as well.”
Only 23, Butler got the call Tuesday night, informing him his days at Double-A Tulsa were over, it was time to come to the big club. He’s the first Grand Junction Rockies player to make the major league roster.
“It was a little nerve-wracking getting that first call,” he said. “It was exciting. I was sitting there with my roommate, just hanging out.”
The next few hours might be a blur, but Butler appeared composed, yet excited, about his first major league start for the Rockies, who took a six-game losing streak into Thursday night’s game against Arizona.
Manager Walt Weiss said Wednesday he hoped Butler would be a shot in the arm for the struggling ballclub, but his new veteran teammates are advising him not to try to be the savior. Butler knows he just needs to channel his emotions tonight and pitch.
“I just want to come in and be a part of the team, give the guys a chance to win,” he said. “If I go out there and pitch six innings and give us a chance to win, it’s going to be a great day.”
He expects about 20 friends and family members to be in the stands tonight, including his host family from Grand Junction, Nick and Carma Brown and one of their two sons, Kyle, who is the same age as Butler. The two became good friends during Butler’s Rookie ball season.
Butler will have more friends and teammates watching his debut on television. One of those is his pitching coach from Grand Junction, Ryan Kibler.
“I’m going to make sure I am someplace I can see that game,” Kibler said Thursday afternoon. “I’m going to make a point of it. That’ll be something to see. He’s the first guy that was drafted and went straight to Grand Junction and was there the whole season (to get called up). We’ve had others on rehab, but nothing like this one. This one is a little bit different.”
Kibler’s advice to Butler tonight would be the same thing he told him before each start two years ago.
“He’s got good stuff,” Kibler said. “Just because his good stuff gets hit one time, there’s no need to change. Keep going at the next guy, because he won’t hit it.”
Kibler hadn’t seen Butler for a year until he reported to the instructional league after last season, and he immediately saw a changed pitcher. He said Butler was always coachable, and it was clear to Kibler he was soaking up everything coaches and experienced teammates were teaching him.
“He was much more polished,” Kibler said. “He’d made the adjustment that the pitching coaches (at Asheville, Modesto and Tulsa) made. They were the correct adjustments, and he was a much more polished pitcher. He’d combined power with command and was locating like he had to locate at that level.”
He’s more polished, but he still has just enough swagger that should help him handle the ups and downs of the big leagues.
“Try to be even-keel,” Butler said. “The roller coaster’s not a good thing. You go out every day and try to keep that same mentality, attacking guys and give us a chance to win.”
He knows today is going to be a high-anxiety day, but it’s a day he’s pointed to ever since he started playing baseball. And the fact he’s facing the Los Angeles Dodgers?
“It’s another team, another guy in the box,” he said. “I’m just going to go attack them and give us a chance to win. I know they’ll play behind me and score some runs.
“I think I’ll be all right. I’m just having fun, and playing with these guys is great.”
He spent his time in Tulsa well, refining his four-seam fastball and continuing to build game experience. He plans to “pitch off my fastball” tonight, mixing it with his curve, change-up and slider.
“Nothing special,” he said.
The key is making sure he doesn’t try to blow the ball past hitters, keeping it down so his sinking fastball sets up his slider.
This is only his second visit to Coors Field (his first was when he signed), a place he hopes will become his home for several years.
He had the media chuckling at several one-liners, especially when he talked about growing up rooting for another team in the National League.
“I was a Braves fan, which isn’t good, because they’re lining up for the second start,” he said.
About handling all of the speculation as to when he would get the call:
“It’s there. You see the things, people talk, you get asked about it,” he said. “Some guys in the clubhouse are like, ‘Hey, it could be next week.’ Yeah, right. You’ve just got to put those things behind you when you get on the mound and do your job.”
And when the lanky red-head, wearing his new team cap, was asked if he’ll be able to handle the nerves that are expected for any rookie making his first start, he couldn’t help but laugh himself.
“We’re gonna find out,” he said.