Out of all the pitchers pegged for Beloit Snappers’ starting rotation to open the season, none was better-equipped for success than right-hander Brendan Butler, who had a strong final six weeks of the 2016 season in the Snappers’ rotation.
The Oakland A’s 30th-round selection in the 2015 draft out of Dowling College in New York has picked up right where he left off in the Midwest League and has been one of the staff’s top hurlers. Through 48.1 innings this season, Butler has allowed just 13 earned runs on 37 hits – good for an outstanding 2.42 ERA – and has compiled a K:BB rate of 55:11. All of this comes after he wrapped up his first full professional season with a 3.14 ERA at Beloit.
The 24-year old has employed much the same approach as last summer.
“I try to keep it pretty basic,” Butler said on Monday. “As good as I was last year, I’m just trying to do the same thing, be consistent and fill up the zone. I’m coming off back-to-back iffy starts, but I had a good side today and it got me back on the right track.”
Butler wasn’t discouraged by having to repeat the Midwest League after his success last season.
“I used (my assignment) as positive motivation, pitching trying to get the call up to Stockton,” Butler said. “I knew there was a shot I could go either way. I had good enough numbers, but I also thought maybe I didn’t have enough innings here last year to get to go to Stockton. But either way, I’m playing baseball every day and can’t complain.”
Although Butler says he would like to have his last two starts back, he has been happy with the overall results through eight starts and three relief appearances in a hybrid role. Butler allowed no earned runs in six of eight appearances during a five-week span between April 11th and May 16th. During that time, he pitched 35.2 innings and allowed just four earned runs on 20 hits while posting a K:BB rate of 44:7.
“My success during the year, during that little stretch of good outings I had, I tried to fill up the ‘zone, pitch to contact. We’ve got some pretty good infielders and I’m a ground ball pitcher,” Butler said. “I just let the hitters get themselves out, get strikeouts as I can and keep the team in the game.”
Butler has struggled during his past two starts, however. He’s allowed six earned runs on 12 hits in his past nine innings. He says those two outings have given him something more to work on.
“I am learning about staying within myself and not trying to do too much,” Butler said. “I have a tendency if I try to do too much, I’ll fall off and my ball will come up. My last game, I had a bad pre-game side (session) and took that out with me. I left the ball up and they were spraying the ball all over on me. I need to stay down in the ‘zone, trust my movement and trust my sink, and then the secondary pitches will come. I need to get ahead with the fastball and get quick outs.”
In order to better prepare himself for success, especially when he does get the call to the next level, Butler added another offering to his three-pitch arsenal (two-seam fastball, slider, changeup).
“I throw my curveball more this year,” Butler said. “Before, I threw it in my sides but it was kind of iffy and I didn’t bring it out in the game with me. Some days it’s good in a game and some days it’s bad. I throw it out of the stretch to minimize any extra movements to get myself out of whack.”
Butler hopes the fourth pitch will help push him to the next level, and that he can get a second crack at starting in Stockton after struggling there during a brief stint with the Ports early in the 2016 campaign.
“I want to keep pitching well and keep my team in the game,” he said. “And then hopefully getting called up to Stockton this year would be a goal of mine. I want to keep getting better, keep making strides and pitch to contact to get some weak ground balls. We’ll see what happens from there.”