MIAMI – A week or two ago he couldn’t be sure he would still be in the Cubs’ organization when the season started, much less on the mound.
But right-hander Eddie Butler had a vision, he said, that maybe even looked a little like the wild night of marathon pitching that unfolded in the second game of the season Friday in Miami.
“This is exactly what I’ve been wanting to do. I’m here to help this team win,” he said. “To me it was going seven innings out of the pen.”
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Seven innings. Out of the bullpen.
The Cubs and Marlins played 17 innings and lost 2-1 on Miguel Rojas’ walkoff single off Brandon Morrow’s second pitch as a Cub.
But what Butler did from the final batter of the 10th inning until the second-to-last batter of the game figures to survive as a highlight of the season and certainly a highlight of his career – even though he wound up charged with the hard-luck loss.
“That was such a huge effort, especially this early in the year, when starters aren’t going so deep into games,” said Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks – who pitched one inning and threw two pitches fewer than Butler in the game.
“What he did coming out of the bullpen tonight was awesome.”
It was a career-high number of innings for Butler, whose previous high was a six-inning start in his Cubs debut last season.
It was the longest relief outing for a Cub since Scott Sanderson pitched eight innings in 1989, and he’s the first Cubs pitcher to throw at least five innings of relief and also draw a walk (in the 16th) since Turk Wendell in 1995.
“That’s pretty amazing, man,” said manager Joe Maddon, who estimated Butler was stretched out to a natural 70 pitches or about five innings until watching him roll. “Give Eddie a lot of credit for prolonging that game.”
Butler became the 25th man on the team when he earned the final bullpen job at the end of spring training. He was out of options so they would have lost him from the organization if he didn’t make the roster.
“Just the confidence level, the hard work he’s put in, it’s just real cool to see it pay off right there,” Hendricks said.
Nobody said the season was going to be easy for the Cubs.
Well, actually, a lot of people said playing the Marlins would be easy.
But somebody forgot to tell the Marlins Friday about this whole tanking plan they devised when they traded away their entire All-Star outfield during a winter selling spree.
Marlins reliever Jarlin Garcia pitched longer than the team’s starter, going six innings that he finished by escaping a 15th-inning, bases-loaded jam on a Jason Heyward double play.
He was perfect through his first five innings.
If the first two games have suggested anything about the Cubs it might be that they were right to feel optimistic about their revamped, deeper bullpen, too.
Five Cubs relievers combined in Thursday’s opener to pitch 5 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing only one hit (and three walks).
On Friday, they got 10 2/3 more innings from six relievers — who kept it scoreless until Morrow took over with two on and two out in the 17th.
And the Cubs’ combined totals for 11 relief appearances by eight pitchers over the two games: 16 1/3 innings, one run, 14 strikeouts, nine hits allowed and a few too many walks (eight).
“It’s really fun watching how deep the bullpen is,” said Saturday’s scheduled starter, Yu Darvish, through his interpreter. “It’s really nice to have that kind of depth there.”
The Cubs threatened early against one-time spring training Cubs left-hander Caleb Smith but scored just once – on Kris Bryant’s first homer of the year, a shot to left with one out in the third against the Marlins No. 2 starter.
By the time this one ended, the work of Kyle Hendricks was easy to overlook.
At least he’s used to it.
“It’s just based on velocity,” Maddon said. “He’s not a hard thrower so people wonder how or why he’s as effective as he is. It’s because of deception and movement.”
Making his 100th career start Friday, Hendricks pitched a quick, efficient six innings, allowing one run on four hits and needing just 88 pitches.
In the process, he lowered his career ERA to 2.93 – second-lowest to Clayton Kershaw among active pitchers with at least 100 starts.
“You ask a hitter, man, to be deceived and [see] that great movement from the pitcher is a lot more difficult than somebody you see really well that throws very hard,” Maddon said. “That guy’s a lot easier to hit.
“Kyle’s just the other end of the spectrum when it comes to being difficult to hit. There’s not many of them out there right now, and that’s why he’s probably underappreciated.”
Facing the third-youngest team in the majors, Hendricks looked even more difficult to hit than usual.
All four hits allowed Friday were singles, and almost all the damage against him was done in a three-batter sequence in the third with one out: a single to center, a walk and a run-scoring single to left by ex-Cub Starlin Castro.