ST. LOUIS — It was only one start in May.
But don’t blame the Cubs’ front-office leaders if they saw glimpses of the next four years in Eddie Butler’s six scoreless innings Friday night against the Cardinals.
“I don’t want to look too far in the future, but certainly we were excited when we traded for him,” general manager Jed Hoyer said of the right-hander who beat the Cardinals 3-2 in his Cubs debut. “And the best way to make the most of his opportunities is to keep throwing well.”
Butler, 26, is one of three potential rotation pieces the Cubs acquired in the last 8½ months. And it’s a rotation that figures to have at least two vacancies to fill by next spring.
The brass can claim victory if one of the three — also Alec Mills and Mike Montgomery — becomes an effective starter.
And looking for more pitching in trades between now and the July 31 trade deadline remains a “significant focus,” Hoyer said.
For now, put Butler — a former first-round draft pick with a hard sinker — at the front of the line among the candidates to replace John Lackey or Jake Arrieta (both free agents) next year.
And put Brett Anderson (8.18 ERA in six starts) on notice he doesn’t need to rush the sore back that put him on the disabled list.
“He was really good,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s very interesting, with a very good arm.”
Butler, acquired in February in a trade with the Rockies, had a 6.50 career ERA in 36 big-league games (28 starts) over parts of three seasons with Colorado.
But after a fresh start with a new coaching staff, he followed an impressive spring with a dominant start at Class AAA Iowa (1.17 ERA in five starts).
“The biggest impression he made on me was the strike throwing,” Maddon said of the righty, who threw 18 of his first 21 pitches of the spring for strikes. “Mid-90s with a good breaking ball, and you combine that with the fact he knows where it’s going. Any young pitcher, man, when they throw strikes, it’s always attractive.”
On Friday, Butler gave up back-to-back walks with two out in the first, earning a visit from pitching coach Chris Bosio, but then allowed only three base runners the rest of the way on two singles and a walk.
“I’m going to go out there and keep attacking,” Butler (1-0) said. “I plan on holding a spot [in the rotation]. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
It was exactly the kind of game general manager Jed Hoyer and Maddon have been looking for after the Cubs’ spent the first five weeks of the season fighting from behind early in most of their games and struggling to take a .500 record into the Cardinals series.
They had trailed in all but seven of their first 34 games, coming from behind in 10 of their 17 wins.
Maddon wasn’t surprised that Butler gave the Cubs a lift against a team that took a six-game win streak into the series.
“It’s not like he was throwing it in a pedestrian manner [at Class AAA] and came up and just had a good night,” the manager said.
Butler’s effort meant the Cubs’ rotation matched its season high with a third consecutive quality start.
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