Eddie Butler was a mess.
The one-time Rockies prospect was teetering after back-to-back dreadful starts with the Albuquerque Isotopes on July 21 and 27.
Then came Tuesday’s outing, when he went eight innings, allowing just two runs on four hits and one walk, needing just 83 pitches to get that far.
It was a seemingly minor adjustment in his delivery that turned the tide for Butler. It stemmed from his pitching coach’s desire for all of members of the staff to remain balanced throughout their delivery.
"One of the things that kind of came about as we were working on balance was what he’s doing with this back (right) hip, it had a tendency to kind of tuck under a little bit," Darryl Scott said. "So as we were working on balance we noticed that the back hip just needed to stay up and stay a little stronger. As soon as he made that move, the direction got better because now the back hip was carrying the pitch through the zone. It created a much better line on finish and allowed him to be strong throughout the delivery and balanced throughout the delivery."
Butler said he had no idea his struggles were, at least in part, stemming from that type of problem.
"Not really," he said. "I went in and saw my extension wasn’t good and talked with Darryl about it. He was like, ‘That’s what will come from staying tall, it gives you a chance to get out in front a little bit.’ I was collapsing my back side and falling forward. This is something I have to pay attention to and make sure I make it consistent to stay tall and get out in front with it."
That in turn led to both a mechanical and mental improvement for Butler.
"I’d say more so consistency with what the ball was doing," Butler said. "Before I’d stay tall for one or two pitches and throw a really good sinker and then I’d throw another sinker, it would stay straight and get crushed. I have a pretty good idea (now) that what every single one is going to do and it’s not, well, I hope this one sinks. The consistency is just what’s been way better. The late action has been there."
While the focus for pitchers always seems to be on the area from the shoulder to the fingertips, a delivery is a complex mix of moving parts from the fingertips to the feet. Anything in that motion can throw it off.
"Really, what happens with the arm, there’s a direct correlation with the legs and what’s happening over the (pitching) rubber," Scott said. "Everyone is looking at the end product, so if you start trying to fix the end product, you’re really never addressing the root cause of it. Probably 95 percent of the time, the mistakes that are happening are caused at the beginning.
"Just creating that position of balance and strength over the rubber allows the body to move how it really wants to move. A lot of times guys will collapse and get weak with their lower half and that leads to the front side getting bigger and swinging out. So we just really went back to, really for me, it’s going back to the basics, going back to balance, rhythm and timing, which is what we preach in our organization."
The Isotopes were tempted to leave Butler out there for one more inning.
"He went eight innings, 83 pitches, that’s pretty good," Scott said. "Really, we had the option to send him back out there, but we thought it was a good opportunity for (Matt) Carasiti to get in that role and get his feet wet in that role. So it worked out perfectly for everybody."
Carasiti nailed down the save in a 3-2 victory over Tacoma.
Wednesday’s game was almost the opposite, with the Isotopes losing 10-8 at home against Sacramento. It was a rough, often ugly game.
Kyle Freeland (2-3) pitched well for five innings before running out of steam in the sixth. He left with one out and two on and Albuquerque leading 6-4. Miguel Castro then gave up a three-run blast to Chris Denorfia and the Isotopes (48-62) would never regain the lead.
Freeland was charged with six earned runs on seven hits and one walk in 5 1/3 innings. He did strike out eight, a new career high, and has 22 strikeouts in his last three outings.
Stephen Cardullo went 3-for-4 with two RBI, falling a single shy of the cycle. Rehabbing Rockies outfielder Gerardo Parra went 2-for-4 with two RBI after having been 0-for-8 in two previous games with Albuquerque.
The Isotopes and River Cats will meet again tonight at 7:05.