Eddie Butler’s first five innings Thursday could not have been much better.
His sixth frame could hardly have been worse.
Butler, a starting pitcher for the Albuquerque Isotopes, got off to a superb start in a matinee outing against visiting Nashville. Butler mowed down Sounds hitters at a crazy rate and did not allow a hit through 51/3 innings. The Topes had a 1-0 lead.
By the time Albuquerque came to bat in the bottom of the sixth, Butler was in the showers, Nashville led 7-1 and the Sounds were on their way to a series-evening 8-4 win.
What caused the wheels to suddenly come off?
“Eddie Butler caused the wheels to come off,” Isotopes manager Glenallen Hill said. “As soon as he gave up a hit, emotionally he lost his edge. That should not happen and he’s going to have to revisit that.”
There was certainly no way to see the sudden reversal coming as Butler was nothing short of dominant through the first five innings. The right-hander retired the Sounds in order four times and permitted only a one-out walk to Jaycob Brugman in the fourth.
With only 53 pitches under his belt through five frames, Butler looked every bit the candidate for a deep outing. When he retired Tyler Ladendorf on a routine ground ball to start the sixth, Butler equaled the third-longest no-hit start in Isotopes history.
“His pitch count was extremely low, and he was getting a lot of weak contact,” Hill said. “It was off the charts.”
Everything changed when Nashville’s No. 9 hitter, Bryan Anderson, stepped up and lined Butler’s first pitch to right-center for a double. Billy Burns then walked on four pitches.
Nashville’s next five batters collected three RBI singles, a line-drive out to center and a two-run triple by Joey Wendle. The Sounds led 5-1 when Hill trudged to the mound to take the ball from Butler. It was 7-1 after the next batter, Matt Olson, clubbed a two-run homer off reliever Brian Schlitter.
Despite his outstanding start, Butler (4-1) ended up allowing six earned runs on five hits with two walks and one strikeout in 52/3 innings. Six of the last seven hitters he faced scored.
“He got distraught after that first hit and lost his focus,” Hill said. “When an offense is struggling they’ll feed off that first hit. A pitcher has to know that and manage his emotions. Eddie didn’t do that, and I hope it’s a lesson for him. It’s disheartening to see a great outing fall apart so fast.”
Nashville had eight hits in the contest, six of them coming in the sixth inning. The Isotopes had seven hits but were unable to sustain a significant rally. Dustin Garneau and Jordan Patterson blasted back-to-back solo homers in the seventh to trim the deficit to 7-3 but the ‘Topes would get no closer.
Hill said he does not want Butler to simply put Thursday’s hot-and-cold outing behind him. The right-hander, who has appeared in 12 games with the Colorado Rockies in 2016 and has shuttled between Denver and Albuquerque numerous times the past two seasons, needs to learn from it, Hill said.
“I want him to take a hard look at this one,” Hill said. “You saw how good he can be today. If he can take a lesson from this, it could really be to everyone’s benefit.”
STREAK CONTINUES: Thursday was also a good-news, bad-news day for outfielder David Dahl. Dahl’s third-inning single extended his hitting streak to 14 games, longest by an Isotope this season. However, he also struck out three times to finish 1-for-4, as his batting average dipped under .500 (.491) for the first time since he was promoted to Triple-A on July 4.
SHADES REQUIRED: Thursday was the final midday home start of the season at Isotopes Park and many of the announced 5,424 fans sought shade in the sizzling conditions. Players had to shade their eyes and struggled to catch several high fly balls, but the stadium lights were inexplicably on throughout the contest.