If the pitching staff is as well prepared as Mike Butcher, the Diamondbacks could expect a successful season. Noted for taking meticulous notes, and tracking trends, Butcher, the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach hired after last season, comes to manager Chip Hale’s staff with a reputation as well organized and well planned.
That would clearly benefit an organization which believes they are the road to a very competitive season. Pundits like to point to the two essential components of winning baseball. That would be strong pitching and strong defense.
With two weeks remaining in spring training, Butcher has his staff adhering to the attention of details and refinement of skills. Coming from the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim, Butcher guided a staff which captured four American League West Division titles between 2007 and last season. Plus, Butcher had an opportunity witness the continuing evolution of Zack Greinke. Butcher coached the right-hander with the Angles during the 2012 season, and the pair are together again in Sedona Red.
While Butcher is establishing his philosophy and approach to the staff, there are plenty of reminders of what happened last season. While the Diamondbacks staff finished the 2015 season with a combined 4.04 ERA, that was good enough for ninth in the National League. Plus, the staff allowed 182 home runs. Only the Phillies (191) and the Rockies (183) allowed more homers in the National League. Detroit topped the American League with 193 home runs allowed.
As Butcher takes over a staff which will have at least three new starters in the rotation from opening day from a year ago, the essential elements of success, mainly first pitch strike, have been amplified since the first day of camp. Adhering to those principals, Butcher points out, translates into success.
“As a pitcher, you want to get a strike within the first three pitches of a count,” he said. “That’s what we stress. If the count goes to, say, 1-1, then we’re looking for a quality pitch. So far, all the pitches have done a great job. That’s coming from an individual standpoint or from the staff as a whole.”
When general manager Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa, the club’s Chief Baseball Officer, let previous pitching coach Mike Harkey go after last season, the attention focused on a replacement with familiarity. Despite spending time in the American League, Butcher, at 50-years-old out of East Moline, Ill., was not isolated from the Diamondbacks nor Hale’ approach to the game. Crossing paths at several levels in the minors and at the major league level, Butcher witnessed the kind of energy Hale promotes and the manager’s methodology.
“I remember when we played the Diamondbacks last season,” said Butcher in reference to four games between the Angels and Arizona June 15 to 18. “I saw type of team they were, how they played the game and their execution. They ran hard on every ground ball, and played the game the way it is supposed to be played. That impressed me.”
If Butcher responded to Hale in their previous contacts and as a witness to execution, Hale’s vision of Butcher was similar. That’s when several reference calls around baseball were placed, and reports that came back on Butcher were convincing. That included calls to managers with whom Butcher had worked, including Joe Maddon when both were with the Rays, and Mike Scioscia with the Angles.
“When you begin to think about someone joining your staff, we start by asking people around the game,” Hale said. “We reached out to Maddon, Scioscia and others, and everything was good. Mike has come in here, did a great job with the pitchers and continues to tweak a few things. He’s all in.”
Now, Butcher continues his opportunity to follow Greinke, with whom he had that brief introduction a few years ago. If the Diamondbacks are to rely on Grienke as their ace and “stopper” this season, Butcher knows first-hand what to expect.
“Since I had Greinke with the Angels and now here, there has not been a great deal of change,” Butcher said. “The Dodgers altered his mechanics to a very small degree. As far as his preparation, I have not noticed any difference. He pays a great deal of attention to detail and even in hitting drills and throwing on the side, each movement has a precise purpose.”
Going forward, Butcher is of the argument that Greinke’s work ethic, history and production will have a residual effect down through the Diamondbacks staff. That was assimilated through pitching behind Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw during Grenike’s three years with the Dodgers, Butcher pointed out.
ON THE FIELD
Outfielder Yasmany Tomas returned to the line-up Friday against the Dodgers at Salt River, and promptly went 3-for-3, a double and two runs scored. Before 13,411, the Diamondbacks fifth sell-out of the spring at Salt River, Arizona defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers, 11-8.
Coming off a sore right knee which sidelined the Cuban-born hitter for the last week, Tomas said he felt strong and ready to go. Though he managed three trips to the plate, he is neutral regarding overall playing time.
“My knee is good and no pain,” he said through an interpreter. “I’m not worried about times at the plate. Whatever the coaches want is fine with me.”
If Tomas enjoyed a level of success, the opposite could be said for Zack Godley, the Diamondbacks’ starter Friday. Rocked for four runs in the first, Godley was pulled after 3.1 innings, allowed seven hits, seven earned runs and walked two hitters. For his three spring appearances, Godley retains an 0-0 record, but allowed 11 earned runs in 8.1 innings. That’s an 11.88 ERA and add four home runs surrendered.
“(Godley) struggled to get the ball down,” said manager Chip Hale after the game. “Like (Archie Bradley), he can’t be predicable.’
For his part, Godley said the outing was difficult. Admitting “I didn’t have it (Friday),” Godley indicated he wanted to get his pitch down, but that did not happen. While he remains in the conversation for the final spot in the rotation, his competition is moving in the opposite direction.
Left-hander Robbie Ray, also fighting for the final spot in the rotation, enhanced his chances Friday of gaining that spot. Pitching in a AAA game against the Colorado Rockies, Ray pitched into the sixth inning. He threw 5.2 innings, allowed five hits, no runs, walked no hitters and struck out four.
Elsewhere, veteran left-hander Matt Reynolds, on the bubble to make the roster as a reliever, injured his upper body in Wednesday’s game against the Cubs. Hale was uncertain as the extend of the injury, but indicated discomfort was centered in the rib cage area
For Saturday, the Diamondbacks split their squad. In an afternoon game at Salt River (1:10 p.m.) Zack Greinke gets the start against Rangers’ right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez. In a night game against the Mariners in Peoria, righty Tyler Wagner faces M’s ace Felix Hernandez. That game is slated for a 7:10 start.