Say what you want about Eddie Butler, but the guy knows how to have a good time.
The Rockies' No. 10 prospect improved to 4-1 by striking out seven and allowing one hit over 7 1/3 innings in Class A Asheville's 1-0 win over Greenville on Monday. Throughout the start, the right-hander never forgot he was playing a game.
"I stay lighthearted. Between innings, I'm always talking with guys or singing along with the music, joking with guys," he said. "In fact, I was joking with [Tourists third baseman] Jose Rivera, 'Hey, this inning, I'm going to throw seven pitches,' or, 'OK, I'm going to throw six pitches this inning.' I mean, I still felt that edge, but that was just a way I could challenge myself to be a better pitcher."
It worked. Butler, who started this season with 11 1/3 scoreless innings, began Monday night's game with by retiring the first five batters without incident. He struck out the next hitter, Kevin Mager, but the ball squirted away from catcher Tom Murphy and Mager reached first. Butler liked his pitch's effect on Mager, but he also empathized with Murphy.
"The pitch that he missed ended up being a cutter or more like a cutter-slider," he said. "It ended up being really tight with a lot of weight and movement, and it kind of took off on him. And to his credit, he wasn't afraid to call a slider after that, not at all. That made things easy for me, being that that's my out pitch."
That worked too. With Mager standing on first, Butler and Murphy put the passed ball behind them and ended the inning by striking out Jordan Weems for the third punchout of the night.
"That was good. It took a lot of pressure off," Butler said.
The only other Drive batter to reach base off the right-hander was Mookie Betts, who smacked a line-drive single to left in the third. Butler was not particularly regretful about his approach to the at-bat.
"It was a sinker that was down the middle. It was a 1-0 count," he said. "It was about thigh-high. That's a pitch that could be hit well, but it's also a pitch that could get a guy out. He hit it well. You've just got to tip the cap."
Betts stole second to become the lone Greenville man to get into scoring position during the starter's tenure, and Butler ended the frame with another strikeout. It was smooth sailing until Mager caused trouble as the first hitter in the eighth. He fell behind 0-2, took a ball and then fouled off four consecutive pitches before grounding out to first. The battle pushed Butler's pitch count to 91 and ended his night.
"My curveball was all right tonight, about 50/50 for strikes, but the changeup was really working for me," he said. "There were a lot of guys looking for early fastballs and the changeup just messed them up."
In his previous outing, Butler allowed just one hit but walked five and struck out five over six innings against the Augusta GreenJackets. On May 2 against the Crawdads, he struggled, giving five runs -- two earned -- on three walks and five hits, including a first-inning homer.
"At Hickory, I wasn't getting those calls at the knee. I gave in and shied away from my game plan," he said. "After a couple at-bats, I started elevating pitches, and guys started hitting line drives, like obviously, that home run. But I had the same ump for my next start [against Augusta], and I forced myself to stick to that game plan, whatever way the calls went."
Butler, whom the Rockies grabbed with the 46th overall pick in last year's Draft, quickly signed and joined Grand Junction in the Pioneer League. He led the circuit with a 2.13 ERA and was tied for third with seven wins. His May 2 loss at Hickory was the second of his pro career. After Monday's game, his 1.49 ERA is fourth in the South Atlantic League, and he's third with 45 strikeouts. As long as Butler keeps having fun, he figures he'll continue to make opposing hitters miserable.
"When I sit down and start being all serious," he said, "that's when I'm going to get myself into trouble."
Julian Yan, Colorado's No. 20 prospect, scored the game's lone run after reaching on a fielding error by shortstop Jose Vinicio and stealing a base.