Feb. 13, 2013
By Jeffrey Piascik, UConn Athletic Communications
As the University of Connecticut baseball program prepares to travel to Dunedin, Fla. for its first game of the season against Purdue on February 15, senior RHP Pat Butler is gearing up for his final season in a Husky uniform. The versatile Butler, who has performed in numerous roles for Head Coach Jim Penders throughout his career, figures again to be in the mix for a weekend starter spot.
The Chatham, N.J. native is coming off a 2012 campaign in which he posted a 2-3 record with a 5.56 earned run average in 56.1 innings pitched. Last season 10 of Butler’s 13 appearances came as starts, highlighted by a three-hit, seven-scoreless inning performance pitched against Yale in an 8-0 win on March 21. His 1.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio was by far the best of his career, topping his 2010 mark of 1.07.
His career at Connecticut has been characterized by his ability to adapt to different roles, whether that be a mid-week starter or coming out of the bullpen in relief. Butler has made at least three relief appearances in each of the past two seasons, something that helps to keep him motivated.
“I like it,” Butler said of his constantly changing role. “It means you can’t get content. You always have to be fighting for a spot, fighting to win games on the road. I don’t think a lot of guys would embrace it, but it helps drive me.”
With lefty Anthony Marzi holding down the top spot in the rotation, and converted reliever Carson Cross expected to be the second starter, Brian Ward and Butler forecast to be in competition for the final weekend slot. Despite the fact that this season will be Butler’s last chance to prove himself at the college level, he doesn’t worry about who will get the nod when Big East games roll around in late March.
“I’m just going to embrace whatever role I have here and do what I can to help the team,” Butler said. “Hard work pays off. Sometimes when you hit a low all you can do is try to work harder to try and get out of it.”
Although his career 8-5 record and 5.64 ERA don’t represent typical top-of-the-rotation numbers, Butler has worked hard this past offseason to enhance his repertoire. During the past summer he pitched for the New Jersey Eagles of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, who won the 2012 ACBL Championship. Butler was ranked the 16th best prospect in the ACBL by Perfect Game.
Butler’s summer experience was one that allowed him to stay in his pitching routine and keep him in rhythm, as well as tinker with some of his pitches in hopes of making improvements for the following spring.
“It was a great summer for me,” said Butler. “I was able to work on a lot, especially my breaking pitches, which I will hopefully have more success with this season. We were able to win a championship with that team which is even better.”
At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Butler is one of six Husky pitchers over 6-foot-4, and is listed as the heaviest player on the roster. Regardless of his listed weight, Butler feels this season he is in the best shape of his Connecticut career, something that he credits to his pitching coach Josh MacDonald.
“They’ve all been been great, especially Coach MacDonald,” Butler said of the coaching staff. “It’s now his second season here and he’s been great in terms of helping me with my mechanics, my breaking ball, and my conditioning. I feel like I’ve come a long way since he came here.”
“I think it helps, I couldn’t really say exactly how much it helped me, that’s a question you’ll have to ask the hitters,” he joked about his stature. “But I hope it helps me again this season, we’ll have to see.”
After being bounced by USF in a 2-1 loss in the 2012 Big East Tournament, Butler says that the team has worked hard to fix the mistakes that hindered them last season. Even though the Big East features powerhouse teams like Louisville and St. John’s, Butler says that he and his teammates are expecting to contend for a championship.
“Winning championships is our goal every year,” said Butler. “We fell a little short last year, but this year I’m pretty confident we have a good enough team that we’ll be able to do it.”
For Butler, the long-term goal is to make it to the next level after college, but he understands that he can’t get too far ahead of himself. The level-headed attitude displayed by the senior is something that will serve this UConn team well, especially the younger players. Butler understands as an upperclassman it is his job to lead by example, just the same as the guys before him.
“We’ll have to see how this year goes,” he said. “If I get an opportunity after this season, that would be a real blessing, but I can’t take anything for granted. We have to get through this year and try to go out there and win. That’s what I’m focused on right now.”
Regardless of how Coach Penders decides to use Butler this season, Husky fans can be assured that they will get a team-driven effort from the senior right hander. Despite being surrounded by stars, like LJ Mazzili and Billy Ferriter, who constantly are the recipients of attention from media and scouts, Butler continues to develop his craft under the radar, and figures to once again be an important part of this Connecticut team.