By the end of the weekend, Modesto Nuts' starter Eddie Butler will have pitched in front of a national television audience as part of Major League Baseball's Futures Game.
But in his final outing before leaving for New York City, Butler came up with an atypical outing that he'd do well to quickly put in the past.
Already limited to five innings per outing by the Colorado Rockies, Butler got only 11 outs while giving up seven runs in what became a 9-6 Stockton Ports victory at John Thurman Field.
This was the fifth start for Butler (3-3) since being placed on the five-inning limit, which is an effort to cap the innings for the talented righty in his first full professional season, and the first time he's failed to reach that barrier.
"I don't think his stuff was very good tonight," said Nuts' manager Fred Nelson. "He was up in the zone and it didn't look like his fastball had the life it normally has, so it was just one of those nights when he didn't have the combination of command and the stuff he's had before."
The lack of command was evident even in the kind of outs Butler was able to record. He normally induces a lot of ground ball outs with his hard, sinking fastball, but of the outs he recorded, four came by strikeout and only two were via ground balls.
He would have had a third ground ball out, but Stockton catcher Phil Pohl reached to lead off the third inning on a throwing error by Nuts' third baseman Niko Gallego.
Butler wasn't the same after the error. He gave up four unearned runs in that inning, including three on a long homer to left by B.A. Vollmuth, then gave up another three-run shot to Max Muncy in the fourth on the final pitch he would throw.
When Josh Whitaker greeted reliever Geoff Parker with a solo shot, Stockton held an 8-1 lead.
Modesto fought back against Ports' starter James Simmons (7-3,) scoring three runs in the fourth, and two more in the fifth, with the second home run in as many nights from Brian Humphries, pulling the Nuts within 8-6.
The Modesto bullpen of Parker, Will Rankin and Nelson Gonzalez would allow one run on only three hits over the final 51/3 innings, but the Ports' bullpen was even better.
Simmons lasted five innings to get the win, striking out six Nuts, and three Stockton relievers added six more whiffs to the total to continue Modesto's season-long whiff trend.
The Nuts lead the California League in strikeouts by a wide margin, and with 923 strikeouts through the season's first 92 games are on pace to be the first club in league history to average 10 whiffs per game.
Humphries' homer, which came with no outs in the fifth, accounted for Modesto's final hit. They would get one more baserunner, via walk to Trevor Story in the seventh, but Story would be erased on a double play.
"(The strikeouts) were a combination early of getting here to start the season and maybe being a little bit overwhelmed," Nelson said. "They've made a lot of progress in the quality of at-bats since they've been here and they keep working every day."
NUTS NOTES: The Futures Game will be televised live from Citi Field on Sunday, starting at 11 a.m. on ESPN2. It uses a U.S. vs. International format and pitchers generally don't throw more than an inning.
Since Sunday falls on a day Butler normally would throw a side session, Nelson said his appearance in the game would not impact the Nuts' rotation.
Also helping the rotation remain intact is the Tuesday league-wide off day in honor of the Major League All-Star Game. It will be Modesto's first day off other than the three-day California-Carolina League break since May 22.
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek
Run of ex-Modesto minor leaguers on MLB All-Star rosters reaches a remarkable 46 years. Read Brian VanderBeek's blog at modbee.com/blogs.