But­ler didn’t do it – for Rock­ies, at least

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Groke

mesa, ariz.» Ed­die But­ler al­ways wore an air that he had no wor­ries when he skipped over the first-base line on his way to the mound at Coors Field. When he hur­dled the chalk at Sloan Park this week, though, some­thing nagged at the red-headed right-han­der.

But­ler, once the Rock­ies’ top pitch­ing prospect, was set to throw for the world cham­pion Chicago Cubs against his for­mer team for the first time, to hit­ters he sat be­side on mi­nor-league bus rides last sum­mer. What is the pro­to­col for that kind of awk­ward­ness? “It was def­i­nitely weird,” But­ler said. “My big­gest thing, OK, I’m play­ing against them to­day out of the bullpen. Do I say hi to the guys? Do I cold-shoul­der them? I was very un­sure.”

A move from peren­nial bot­tom-feeder to World Se­ries cham­pion ripped But­ler’s off­sea­son apart. The Rock­ies in Fe­bru­ary traded him to the Cubs for right-handed re­lief prospect James Far­ris and a higher in­ter­na­tional draft slot.

The Rock­ies are set this sea­son to start a pitch­ing ro­ta­tion with an av­er­age age near 25. But­ler will be more ex­pe­ri­enced than four of those pitch­ers and older than three. Colorado’s com­pen­sa­tional first-round draft pick in 2012 is both a warn­ing flag for re­ly­ing on prospects and a missed op­por­tu­nity. Colorado is still un­de­cided on two ro­ta­tion spots less than three weeks from its sea­son opener.

But­ler is pitch­ing for the Cubs’ fifth start­ing spot. Odds are long that he gets it. But when he walked out of the bullpen Sun­day against the Rock­ies, no­body was hold­ing his breath with ner­vous­ness.

“The guys here aren’t like, ‘Oh, here we go,’ ” But­ler said. “I don’t know if it was ever

like that in Colorado. But it’s still that new feel­ing like all these guys have my back right now. They’re all Team Ed­die. It’s great to get a new start. And every­body is pumped.”

Chicago cov­eted But­ler ever since his draft year. It just didn’t think he was a first-round pick. The Cubs’ front of­fice fi­nally found its chance to get him after he failed in Colorado. But­ler went 3-10 with a 5.90 ERA in 2015, the year he was ex­pected to break through. Last sea­son, after strug­gling again in the ro­ta­tion, he was bounced to the bullpen, then back to Triple-A.

In three ab­bre­vi­ated sea­sons, he went 6-16 with a 6.50 ERA. By the end of his Rock­ies ca­reer, he looked much dif­fer­ent on the mound from his draft-age self. He was more up­right and stiff, with a higher re­lease point. And the Rock­ies moved him away from throw­ing his best pitch, a twoseam sink­ing fast­ball.

“The Cubs wanted me. They wanted to get me right,” But­ler said. “They wanted me to get back to throw­ing sinkers, throw­ing down­hill.”

In that Cac­tus League game against the Rock­ies, But­ler faced six bat­ters, in­duc­ing five ground­outs and a fly­ball out on a changeup.

“He has a fan­tas­tic arm,” Chicago man­ager Joe Mad­don told the Chicago Tri­bune. “He’s def­i­nitely in the run­ning down the road. Or if some­thing were to hap­pen, who knows?”

The Rock­ies al­ways said the same. But­ler was their fu­ture. They loved his arm. But­ler was one half of their great hope. Jon Gray, who may be Colorado’s open­ing-day starter, was drafted with the third pick in 2013. Im­me­di­ately, the Rock­ies’ turn­around fell to the sin­gu­lar tag team — “But­lerandGray.”

“Oh, I know. There was a lot of that,” said Gray, who led the Rock­ies in strike­outs last sea­son with 185. He is poised to be the staff ace this year. But­ler will have to do on his own else­where.

“I’m sure he was on cloud nine. He seems like he’s hav­ing a good time,” Gray said. “It was the best thing that could hap­pen to his ca­reer. I don’t think there should be any­one up­set about it.”

In­stead of try­ing to lead a young ro­ta­tion in Colorado, But­ler will con­tinue to learn in a group that in­cludes es­tab­lished vet­eran Jake Ar­ri­eta, who was a sim­i­larly strug­gling 27-year-old when he was traded to the Cubs in 2013. He won a Cy Young Award two years later.

“He’s over here now for a rea­son,” Ar­ri­eta said of But­ler. “He fits in well. Ev­ery­thing is here to re­ally help him ac­cess his abil­ity on a con­sis­tent ba­sis. He’s in a good en­vi­ron­ment here.”

The Rock­ies are all in on a youth pitch­ing move­ment, with a stock­pile led by Gray. It is risky, as they learned with But­ler.

“I un­der­stand I didn’t throw well there,” But­ler said. “There will be a time when they say ‘What if?’ But that’s base­ball. There’s no per­fect equa­tion. It’s tough. You just have to keep rolling with what you’ve got.”

Ed­die But­ler’s strong right arm has caught the at­ten­tion of Chicago Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don this spring. But­ler was a Rock­ies first-round draft pick in 2012. Char­lie Riedel, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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