The task ahead for Mike Butcher would seem formidable. Named as the Diamondbacks new pitching coach Wednesday, Butcher not only enters a new environment in the National League but also faces several critical issues.
Fired after a nearly a decade as a successful pitching coach for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Butcher eventually accepted the Diamondbacks’ offer to turn the Arizona staff around. In addition to try and find ways to address critical issues, Butcher must also transition to the National League.
There is no question the task ahead for Butcher is formidable. Butcher, at 50-years old, and a resident of the Phoenix area since 1990, needs to find ways to get new starters deep into games, eliminate the staff’s propensity for allowing home runs and try to develop strong, competitive personalities among his pitchers.
After previous pitching coach Mike Harley was fired the day after the season ended, the quest began in earnest to bring a marginal pitching staff, at best, to near equal ground with a productive offense. Butcher arrives in the desert with a history of success, but the way Arizona starters executed during the 2015 season, Butcher will have to work some magic.
“Living in the area, I’m very familiar with the players and follow the team closely,” Butcher said in a conference call with Arizona reporters Wednesday afternoon. “I see a great nucleus of young talent and I love what (manager) Chip Hale, with his baseball knowledge and energy, brings to the table.”
In his nine seasons as pitching coach with the Angels, Butcher guided nine different pitchers to the American League All-Star team. These include Francisco Rodriguez (2007-08) John Lackey (2007), Joe Saunders (2008), Ervin Santana (2008), Brian Fuentes (2009), Jered Weaver (2010-12), Jordan Walden (2011), C.J. Wilson (2012) and Hector Santiago (2015).
In addition, Butcher is credited with bringing Garrett Richards and Jered Weaver to the head of the class of American League pitchers. Butcher was one 12 to 15 potential candidates for the job and according to general manager Dave Stewart, Butcher impressed the Arizona organization with a plan and criteria for each individual pitcher. Apparently, Harkey had no such approach for an individual pitcher and instead, instructed his staff in a generic and universal approach. Things under Butcher, Stewart hinted, will be different for each pitcher will now have an individual plan for success.
Despite recent success, the Angles let Butcher, along with hitting coach and former Diamondbacks coach Don Baylor go on Oct. 15. Apparently, it didn’t take Butcher very long to land back on his feet. Admitting that he interviewed with several teams, the decision to join the Diamondbacks, Butcher pointed out, represented an opportunity to aid a growing staff and be part of what he called, “a tremendous organization.”
Immediately, Butcher pointed out the dynamics of Chase Field and how conducive the venue is for hitters. Complementing the Diamondbacks’ defense and one of the best in the majors, Butcher said his job is to have pitchers keep the ball low and give the defense an opportunity to make plays.
Though he spend nearly the last decade in the American League, Butcher indicated he has no issue transitioning to the National League. Citing inter-league play as the core of his comment, Butcher said his former Angels’ manager Mike Scioscoa, who played 13 years with the Dodgers, is a National League manager by operation. Butcher anticipates a smooth and transparent move to the National League.
One the starters projected for the 2016 is left-hander Patrick Corbin. Coming off Tommy John surgery and eased into the Diamondbacks’ rotation by early July, Corbin said he grew stronger as the season progressed. Following a credible 6-5 record, 3.60 ERA for 16 starts last season, Corbin said he’s ready to step into the rotation. That’s good news for Butcher, who had Corbin in the Angels’ organization until Corbin was dealt to the Diamondbacks as part of a four player deal for essentially pitcher Dan Haren on July 25, 2010.
(Patrick) knows me and I know him,” Butcher said. “I know the type of person he is and the type of pitcher. I look forward to see Patrick grow and develop into a quality major league pitcher.”
At end the last season, Stewart identified Robby Ray, Rubby De La Rosa and Corbin as three with the inside track to gain a slot in the 2016 rotation. Now, Stewart said the Diamondbacks will continue to search for quality starting pitching. In that vein, Stewart identified three components of the search.
“At this point, we’re not looking for a right-hander nor a left-hander in particular,” he said. “We’re looking for a pitcher who will games. Also, we want someone will eat innings and demonstrate leadership.”
With the pitching coach now is in place, the next order of business is secure a bullpen coach. Earlier this week, Mel Stottlemyre, Jr. left as the Diamondbacks bullpen coach and named pitching coach of the Seattle Mariners. Hale indicated the process to replace Stottlemyre will include all Arizona decision-makers and a decision is expected within the next few weeks.
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt and centerfielder A. J. Pollock were named to The Sporting News 2015 National League all-star team. Other position players selected include Buster Posey (Giants) behind the plate, Dee Gordon (Marlins) at second, Brandon Crawford (Giants) at shortstop, Nolan Arenado (Rockies) at third and outfielders Andrew McCutcheon (Pirates) and Bryce Harper (Nationals).