Two games into the season and we’ve already had weird baseball. We’ve also gotten full justification for the Cubs’ decision to carry Timothy Edward Butler as the final member of the bullpen.
Butler was almost an afterthought, a guy who got his spot mainly because he was out of options and no one else really stepped up to take the role. There was also the matter of his ability to step in as an emergency starter or long reliever, the latter of which was on full display Friday night in Miami.
The issue with Butler has never really been stuff — he’s got a five-pitch mix with a fastball that has nice arm-side run and can touch 97 mph — but the ability to command it. Despite what looks like a solid repertoire, Butler has only averaged 5.25 K/9 for his career. Even worse, he’s walked just over four batters per nine innings.
Given the Cubs’ oft-repeated desire to stock the ‘pen with “proven strike-throwers,” the 27-year-old ginger didn’t seem like a great fit. Only one time last season did he strike out as many as five batters and in only five of his 13 appearances (11 starts) did he walk fewer than two. Yet there he was Friday working seven innings of relief with five K’s and only one walk.
While the need for any reliever to pitch that long is not something to expect or desire, the K/BB ratio was a nice revelation. If Butler can just keep that thing as much above 1.0 as possible, he could really be a solid member of the bullpen and could thereby strengthen a back end stocked with higher-leverage arms.
Now if the Cubs could just manage to score more than a single run over 17 innings.