MESA, Ariz. – Eddie Butler has made all but 10 of his 49 big-league appearances as a starting pitcher. He’s made all but one of his 95 minor-league appearances as a starter.
But if he makes it to April as a Cub it will be as a reliever.
“I want to be on this team. This team is a lot of fun, and I want to be a part of it; I want to help this team win a championship,” he said. “So if my role on this team is being a long guy or even a one-inning guy – whatever it may be – I just come to the ballpark looking forward to helping this team win.”
That’s the only realistic short-term view he could have. Because Butler’s out of options, the Cubs can’t send him to the minors without exposing him to waivers and likely losing him. And the bullpen job is the only opening on the pitching staff.
The bigger question is whether the right-hander the Cubs acquired from Colorado last year as rotation depth might be better suited to a relief role long term. And whether that could have a bigger impact on the Cubs’ efforts to return to the World Series – or anyone else’s for that matter — than continuing to use him as a starter.
“We haven’t discussed that. He definitely still has starting capabilities,” manager Joe Maddon said.
He certainly showed that in his Cubs debut last May when he pitched six scoreless innings in St. Louis.
On the other hand, he’s 10-19 with a 5.85 ERA in parts of four seasons in the majors and has shown a tendency to be more effective in his career once through the order, with a steep performance drop-off by the third time through.
In his career opponents have an .832 OPS the first time facing him in a game, .894 the second and .997 the third. A third-time drop-off is not necessarily uncommon, but it has led to an average start of less than five innings.
“He could be very good one time through the lineup; I cannot argue that point,” Maddon said – the day after Butler walked the bases full the second time facing the middle of the Royals’ order (just ahead of a grand slam).
“But I still think he has starting capabilities,” added the manager, who emphasized the ground balls and weak contact in other parts of that same outing.
Butler, a former first-round draft pick who’s still just 27, still sees his long-term career path as being part of a big-league rotation, even as he tries to thrive in a relief role to make this club over the next week.
“I’ll have to figure out a new routine if I am a long guy and find out what’s going to suit me best for that role,” he said. “But everybody wants to start. That’s fun. They want the ball in their hand. They want to know their schedule every day.
“But sometimes it’s good to step out of the norm.”
Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub