Eddie Butler, a right-handed pitcher for the Colorado Rockies, made his Major League debut Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Butler is considered by Baseball America to be the second-best prospect in the organization, behind Jonathan Gray. He was drafted by the Rockies in 2012 as the No. 46 overall pick, and went 4-4 with a 2.49 ERA in 11 starts for Double-A this season. Butler was called up to take the rotation spot of Franklin Morales, who fell victim to his own bad pitching as he posted a 6.13 ERA in 61 innings as a starter.
Before I get into Butler’s first Major League start, let’s go over his stockpile of pitches.
Butler, 23, has a gem of a fastball. He’ll hit anywhere from 92-97 mph on the radar gun, but will usually sit around 94. Not only is his fastball a bullet, it has a top-notch downward sink. Butler also throws a changeup, and he hurls it faster than some pitchers throw their fastball. He may want to lose some velocity in the future, but so far it’s working for him. Butler also throws a sinker and slider, both with fantastic movement and velocity.
The hard-throwing right-hander looks to be a mainstay in the Rockies rotation for years to come. However, his Major League debut wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.
Over 5 1/3 innings, Butler gave up six runs on 10 hits and three walks while striking out two. He threw a total of 87 pitches, 53 for strikes. His goal was to pitch to contact and that’s exactly what he did — inducing only four swing-and-misses. This was my biggest worry about Butler pitching in the thin air of Coors Field; if he can’t strike out hitters, can he still get enough outs? He struck out just 5.24 K/9 in Double-A this season and struck out only two on Friday. As I was watching the game, it seemed that every Dodgers’ hitter was making good, hard contact on almost every swing. They didn’t seem to be fooled by much of anything Butler was throwing. The upside is that Butler stayed away from the top of the strike zone and consistently hit the bottom of it.
But even though he attacked the lower half, Dodgers’ hitters had no trouble handling it. After the game, Rockies catcher Michael McKenry said Butler’s problem was with his sinker.
“He said he started short-arming a little bit,” McKenry said of Butler. “He said that’s one thing he gets in trouble with. We talked about it — I’ve had success with guys in the past who are strong sinker guys just to throw it in the dirt, to make sure he gets on top of it. He started to lose his angle and wasn’t staying over the rubber. He knows that. He’ll grow from it.”
Butler did a great job of keeping the ball on the ground. He forced 12 grounders versus only six line drives and five fly balls. That’s an extremely positive statistic moving forward, especially when pitching in Colorado.
When Butler takes the mound on June 11 versus the Atlanta Braves, he’ll need to work on getting ahead in the count right away — he threw a first-pitch strike only 48% of the time on Friday. Getting ahead will not only boost his confidence immediately during the at-bat, it will also make the batter start pressing at the plate.
Despite giving up six runs and 10 hits, Butler has a lot to be encouraged by and, with time, he’ll only get better. He’ll need to pick up the strikeouts to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he’ll learn how to utilize his pitches more effectively with time.