ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Cubs might have found their fifth starter, though he was hiding in plain sight the whole time. Righty Eddie Butler, 26, performed well in spring training, then in five starts for Triple-A Iowa, before taking the mound at Busch Stadium on Friday and shutting down the St. Louis Cardinals over six innings. It was quite the debut in the Cubs' 3-2 victory.
“Eddie was really good, wasn’t he?” manager Joe Maddon asked reporters rhetorically after the game. “The ball was down a lot and with high velocity.”
Butler’s fastball was so good -- he admitted to being a little amped up -- that the Cardinals barely touched it. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Cardinals were 1-for-11, including four strikeouts, in at-bats that ended with Butler's fastball. He was regularly hitting 95 and 96 mph, which isn’t something anyone has seen out of a Cubs starter this season. In fact, Chicago was the last team in all of baseball to have a starter throw a pitch at least 95 mph.
“I had a little too much adrenaline going on there early on,” Butler said. “Missing around the zone.”
He did walk three batters, which was just as uncharacteristic as his five strikeouts. Maddon thinks that as Butler settles in, he’ll attack the zone better and reduce some easy free passes. The manager had already decided Butler would get another start before he took the mound Friday. He’s likely to get plenty of them now.
“Sounds good to me,” he said. “I’m going to go out there and keep attacking.
“I plan on holding the spot.”
Overall, Butler gave up just two hits and two fly balls -- both in his last inning of work. He has never lacked confidence, but he might have lacked some direction after flaming out with the Colorado Rockies the past few seasons. When he came to the Cubs, he had talks with all the important parties associated with the coaching staff and front office, but it was a discussion with Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks that convinced him what he needed to do. Arrieta, in particular, gave him advice that the veteran righty had followed himself, after being traded to the Cubs in 2013.
“It’s your career,” Arrieta told Butler. “You need to take the initiative.”
In other words, don’t listen to too many people. Do what feels right.
“Went and found Jake and talked to him about his experiences,” Butler recalled. “The big thing is taking ownership of it. I took that to heart.”
The result has been a rock-solid, consistent pitcher since donning a Cubs uniform. Friday was just a confirmation that Butler can get it done in the big leagues -- even if it was for just one outing.
“His last four starts, including in the big leagues, have been mirror images,” Maddon said. “When he gets his feet on the ground, he’ll have less walks. He’s very interesting with a very good arm.”
So on a night when their MVP (Kris Bryant) fell ill just before game time, his replacement (Jon Jay) left with back spasms, and the replacement (Tommy La Stella) to the replacement hit a key home run, it was still the starting pitcher who deserved the headlines. And that’s even over the catcher (Willson Contreras) who hit two home runs, picked off a former teammate (Dexter Fowler) and almost threw the game away on a dropped third strike with two outs in the ninth inning.
That’s a lot of drama, but none of it mattered without Butler.
“We needed to stop their hot streak and get ourselves on one,” Butler said.
Suddenly the Cubs have three straight quality starts after an abysmal beginning to the season for their rotation. The win meant Butler got to experience how the Cubs celebrate regular-season victories. There’s usually a lot of liquids getting sprayed and loud music being played. The newest Cub got what he had coming to him after a brilliant debut, the best for any starting Cub since 2006.
“I was in the middle of it,” he said of the celebration. “A lot of fun, a lot of energy. I want to be doing that a lot.”