Back in April, nobody in the Halosphere had any idea who Ty Buttrey was.
In April, when Shohei Ohtani was pitching a near perfect game and touching 100 mph, Ian Kinsler was the Angels’ steady glove at second base.
Before the July 31 trade deadline arrived, Angel general manager Billy Eppler received a phone call.
On the other end was Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who had a problem that Billy might help him fix.
The Red Sox were 75-33 and well on their way to the AL East title. Eppler’s Angels were nearly toast at 54-53.
Dombrowski wanted an upgrade at second base, where stone-handed Eduardo Nunez, a fill-in for the injured Dustin Pedroia, was booting grounders and bleeding runs as surely as sluggers Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez could provide them.
Dombrowski had his eye on Kinsler – a player in the Pedroia mold – a pest in the box and on the base paths, and a rock-solid glove too.
Eppler liked the idea.
He wanted to boost the Angels’ farm more than he'd already improved it. Kinsler was expendable, his contract ending in 2018.
Eppler wanted help in a sore spot – the bullpen. And Dombrowski had major league-ready relievers he could move.
So a deal was cut. Today, it looks like the two executives may have pulled that rare MLB swap that helps the deal-makers on both sides.
The Angels received Buttrey and lefty swingman Williams Jerez.
Neither had played above AAA Pawtucket.
Kinsler has performed as expected for the playoff-bound Red Sox. Arriving earlier in Anaheim, Jerez has been a mixed bag. Buttrey, on the other hand ...
Buttrey has been the revelation of the late-season. After closing Tuesday’s 9-7 win over the Oakland Athletics, Buttrey is 4-for-4 in save chances.
His numbers speak raw domination: Through 14 appearances, each increasing in leverage, Buttrey has a K/9 of 11.15.
He has 19 strikeouts in 15.1 innings. His ERA is 0.59, and Buttrey’s stranded nearly 93% of enemy runners.
Red Sox fans, despite heading to the playoffs with Kinsler’s postseason experience on board, were wondering on Twitter Wednesday morning if Eppler had beaten Dombrowski.
Standing 6-foot-6 and rushing downhill at 245 pounds, Buttrey has intimidation in a big bag against major league hitters who still don’t know what to expect.
It’s a mystery to them, but It’s no secret that manager Mike Scioscia, in probably his final season after 19 seasons in the Halos dugout, has struggled all year to find a traditional ninth-inning closing option.
If this is indeed Scioscia’s farewell fortnight, the fans can thank Mike for giving Ty Buttrey a chance to show what he can do with a game on the line.
Buttrey has been lights-out. Fun to watch too, and more relaxing on the stomach than the Angels’ relief crew that have prompted fans to reach for their Rolaids too often.
Tuesday night, in a twist of fate, the wild-card hunting Oakland Athletics saw their vaunted bullpen blow up first.
A bolt-out-of-the blue grand slam by struggling infielder Kaleb Cowart – his first homer of the year – gave the Angels a 7-4 lead in the sixth at the Coliseum.
That’s when Scioscia’s use of the bullpen started looking like it had an actual blueprint.
Hansel Robles pitched that sixth inning, followed by Blake Parker in the seventh, and Justin Anderson in the eighth. That trio had all been previous options for Scioscia as closers.
The Angels had a 9-4 lead when the A’s struck back with a three-run rally off Anderson. And Buttrey came out of the bullpen.
The soft-spoken giant from North Carolina did what we haven’t seen in ages.
He converted a five-out save, coolly dismissing a playoff-bound A’s lineup stacked with dangerous lumber.
Buttrey took over from Anderson with the bases loaded and cleaned up a mess.
First, Buttrey waxed Nick Martini with a 96mph heater that an overwhelmed Martini took for a called strike three.
Pinch-hitter Dustin Fowler flared a soft two-run single into right, but Buttrey put out the fire by getting Ramon Laureano to ground to third. Buttrey was out of the inning on 10 pitches, seven for strikes.
Buttrey would need to cut the heart of the A’s lineup in the ninth. No sweat.
Matt Chapman was the first victim, rung up on a 94mph Buttrey dart too the bottom of the zone.
Lefty-swinging Jed Lowrie was next, and he ripped a Buttrey changeup that second baseman Cowart handled for a 4-3 second out.
Buttrey ended it by dropping the curtain, closer-style.
Khris Davis and his 43 homers stood in the batters’ box. Davis left quickly, unable to catch up to a 99mph heater that Buttrey elevated above eye level.
That was all, folks!
It was closing as it should be.
“It’s amazing, I’d love to close games,” Buttrey said afterwards. “I just had the mind-set to go out and come right at ‘em ... And trust the catcher.”
Scioscia’s faith has seemed to grow as 25-year-old Buttrey squares off against the best baseball can dish up.
In order to get saves, a lead is needed.
So Buttrey’s first MLB save came in the Windy City on September 7, a 5-2 win that was fueled by an Ohtani home run. It was a milk run for Buttrey if there are any of those in the majors.
He had to get through the bottom of the Chicago White Sox order, all established big-leaguers.
Buttrey struck out Matt Davidson. Then he got Kevan Smith and Tim Anderson on soft ground outs. Simple as that. Save No. 1.
The next save situation came September 11, a 1-0 win over the Texas Rangers that was notable for the fact that it was a bullpen game ... and also a historic no-hitter.
The Angels used eight pitchers – all relievers – and that motley crew took a combo no-no into the eighth, when Blake Parker surrendered a pair of hits.
The no-hitter, had it held up, would have been the first combination no-hitter in MLB history by players classified as relievers on the depth chart.
Jose Fernandez provided the only cushion with a second-inning homer. Buttrey was summoned with Parker’s inherited runners on. He ended the eighth by getting Jurickson Profar to ground out.
For a pitcher with with take-a-seat-sir stuff, all of Buttrey’s outs against Seattle came on groundouts – and Elvis Andrus, Nomar Mazara and Adrian Beltre all hit balls with handles to Angel infielders. Game over. Save No. 2.
The leverage was cranked a notch when Scioscia turned his horse loose next.
That was Sunday, a 4-3 win against the Seattle Mariners. Kole Calhoun's homer had given the Angels a 4-3 lead. Buttrey’s job to keep it.
He did so in devastating fashion, against first-class hitters. Buttrey struck out the side, all swinging. Ryon Healy went down first, wheezing over a curveball.
Kyle Seager was next, succumbing with a weak stab at a sick change-up that melted in mid-air.
Daniel Vogelbach struck out the old-school way, waving at a 97 mph heater. Save No. 3.
“He looks like a closer for sure,” said Lucas Sardo, host of the Locked On Angels podcast. “He’s got a bit of swag. He adjusts the belt and says ‘Giddy up!’ “
You can listen to Sardo and yours truly chat about Buttrey on the Locked on Angels podcast that dropped Monday. You must listen.
“Getting those guys out, that definitely helped me,” Buttrey told the OC Register’s Jeff Fletcher. “It’s allowed me to be able to see that I do belong here. As a minor-leaguer, we hope and wish what we can be.”
Parker was impressed, even if it meant a temporary demotion: “The guy is lights out,” said Parker, a man with big stuff himself but very little ego. “You can see what he’s got.
“He’s got upper 90s with two wipeout pitches, and he’s getting some of the game’s best hitters. It’s exciting to see what he’s going to do in the future for sure.”
In fact, Buttrey credited Parker and Deck McGuire for some helpful advice about big league hitters. You may question McGuire’s ability on the mound, but there’s no question McGuire and Parker have been around baseball.
So, allow yourself to breathe a sigh of ... Well, relief?
Eppler must feel good. He may have nicked a gem from Dombrowski’s pocket.
At the same time, the Angels GM may have spared himself the dicey off-season hunt for a proven but pricey closer in the free-agent sweepstakes, or trade market.
The Red Sox liked Buttrey, their No. 19-ranked prospect, enough to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft over the winter.
But his path to Fenway Park was blocked by Craig Kimbrel, amongst others.
Matt Collins at Over The Monster, SB Nation’s sister site covering the Red Sox wrote: “The first thing you notice when you look at Buttrey is that he is a rather large human being.”
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t getting frustrated,” Buttrey said. “The Red Sox are in first place, they have an unbelievable team.”
Buttrey’s mother Robin watched her son make his big-league debut in Houston August 31, which she described as “painfully painless.”
She may have been also referring to giving birth to a rather large human being.
In that debut, Buttrey dealt with natural jitters and a supernatural parade of Houston Astros batters.
When he came in from the pen in Houston in relief of Anderson in the eighth, the Angels led 3-0.
As legend Angels closer Troy Percival did more than once, Buttrey created his own trap before escaping.
Josh Reddick blooped a single and Tony Kemp, pinch hitting, doubled into right. That prompted a visit to the mound by pitching coach Charlie Nagy.
At that point, Buttrey said, he “slowed the game down … with a lot of deep breaths.”
The next batters up for him were George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa – no worries then, right?
The result was a marvel. Buttrey got Springer to strike out swinging at a high fastball. He walked Bregman.
Nagy came out for another visit, then Buttrey got Altuve to fish for a fastball piped deliberately outside the zone. Correa popped out.
Had a future closer been born?
“I felt like I hadn’t missed a beat,” Buttrey said after the debut, scratching his peach-fuzz goatee. “It’s a huge learning curve. I was always gonna be adapting.”
Robin Buttrey also told Fox Sports West that her son had wanted to stay on the East Coast, but that he had a weird feeling in the offseason that if he was traded to a west-coast team, it would be the Angels.
Ty Douglas Buttrey was raised in Matthews, North Carolina, which is a fine and dandy name for a town.
In. My. Humble. Opinion.
The town of Matthews, a suburb of Charlotte, was called “Stumptown” until 1879, when the sleepy rail outpost was renamed for E.W. Matthews, director of the Central Carolina Railroad.
(It’s just my feel that those 19th centuury town planners had great town-naming skills, as well as epic old-timey mustaches).
Buttrey played the usual three sports – basketball, of course, being a big kid in North Carolina, but also football and baseball – at Providence High School.
Inside, he didn't feel like a QB or power forward.
Buttrey settled on baseball and was ready to pitch at the University of Arkansas – by coincidence, the alma mater of former closer Parker. But the Red Sox picked Buttrey in the fourth round of the 2012 June draft.
He signed for $1.3 million, well over the value for his draft slot.
Buttrey made minor-league stops at Lowell, Greenville, Salem, Portland and AAA Pawtucket before landing in the bigs.
A starting pitcher in the minors, Buttrey only had a handful of pro saves until notching one for the Paw Sox this spring.
Buttrey came to the Angels with scouting reports that Eppler must have liked.
He relies on a three-pitch repertoire. According to baseballcensus.com, Buttrey has a four-seam fastball with a 70 rating, with velocity up to 100 mph.
His secondary pitches were rated lower – a change-up (35/40 rating) that arrives at 78-82 mph, and a curve rated 45/50 that is 80-84 rated with a bit of “screwball movement.”
The fact that Buttrey used all three as out pitches in fanning the side against the Mariners may signal that those pitches are better than advertized.
In an interview with HH’s own Jeff Joiner, Buttrey told of his realization he was coming to Anaheim, and most probably to The Show, once rosters expanded.
“It was crazy,” Buttrey told Jeff. “I didn’t really know what to think because I’d obviously been with the Red Sox for six years … I was beyond excited. I was very happy to know another team thinks so highly of me to trade, you know, an obviously standout player (Kinsler).”
And so, that long train from Matthews, NC is staying in Anaheim for now.
Eppler and Angels fans can hope the stop is a long one.