Modesto Nuts' right-hander Butler sharp in first Cal League victory

bvanderbeek@modbee.comJune 5, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textBrian VanderBeek
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports, including preps, colleges and the Modesto Nuts
    Bio: Brian VanderBeek joined The Bee in 1996 after previously working at The Home News-Tribune and The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, the (Dover) Delaware State News and the Hanford Sentinel. He is a graduate of Ripon High, Modesto Junior College and holds a degree in journalism from Fresno State.
    Recent stories written by Brian
    On Twitter: @modestobeek
    E-mail: bvanderbeek@modbee.com

— Shortly after signing his first professional contract last summer, Eddie Butler said in an interview that his goal for the 2013 season was to pitch in Modesto.

Now that he's here, Butler might as well make the most of it.

The lanky right-hander, who was the 46th player taken overall in the 2012 draft, earned his first California League victory Tuesday night, throwing six scoreless innings as the Nuts defeated San Jose 5-3 at John Thurman Field.

Making it to Modesto wasn't simply a matter of Butler, a Virginia native and Radford University product, satisfying his West Coast wanderlust.

A promotion to the High-A level in his first full professional season would mean that Butler was pitching well enough in low-A Asheville to show the Colorado brass he was ready for the next level.

"I want to make progress through the system," said Butler, who was 5-1 with a 1.66 ERA in nine starts with Asheville.

"I was taken high last year and they want to move guys through. I'm glad I was given the opportunity to play here. I was able to throw well enough and have the guys play well enough behind me in Asheville to be able to move."

Butler, 22, has one of those rare arms that allows him to reach 98 mph on sinking fastballs, looking almost effortless in the process.

"I've had some help through the years, with personal coaches that have helped me mechanically and help me stay healthy and get stronger," Butler said.

"I've had the luxury of working with (former San Francisco and Oakland pitcher) Gary Lavelle. He lives in the area I'm from and I've worked with him from the time I was nine."

Butler went 7-1 with a 2.13 ERA last season with Grand Junction, and he's 1-1 with a 3.71 ERA so far in three Modesto starts. He held San Jose to five hits and struck out eight without issuing a walk.

"He threw strikes tonight," said manager Lenn Sakata. "That's an improvement because he went after the hitters — challenged the batters and he was in the strike zone. He kept them a little bit off balance, and that was a pretty good start."

Butler left with a 5-0 lead, as Ryan Casteel had an RBI single in a two-run third, Trevor Story added a two-run, two-out double in the fourth, and another run scored on an error in the fifth.

Story, Niko Gallego and Juan Crousset had two hits apiece for Modesto, with Gallego getting on base three times and scoring twice from the leadoff spot.

San Jose got all its runs in a six-pitch span in the seventh off Kraig Sitton, who gave up two hits ahead of Shawn Payne's triple to right. Payne came around to score when the relay to third bounced into the stands.

Nelson Gonzalez and Scott Oberg pitched one perfect inning apiece as the Nuts snapped a six-game losing streak to the Giants.

"We haven't played well against San Jose this year," Butler said. "They really swing it, so we try to slow their swings down, get them off balance so they can hit ground balls."

But if Butler's goal for the 2013 season was to reach Modesto, and he's made it here by June, then what's next?

"Now I have to extend the goal," he said. "Maybe I can get to Tulsa by the end of the season. If not, maybe I can start there next year."

• NUTS NOTES — Modesto ace Dan Winkler (7-2, 2.57) will pitch for the Nuts against rehabbing San Francisco lefty Eric Surkamp. Surkamp, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, is expected to spend about three weeks in the San Jose rotation. This will be Surkamp's first appearance in a game since last July's surgery.

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek

The new role of Modesto Nuts Development Supervisor been filled by baseball veteran Fred Nelson, who knows how important it is to complement and not interfere with manager Lenn Sakata. Read Brian VanderBeek's blog at modbee.com/blogs.

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