08/19/2002 2:28 pm ET
MLBeat: Versatility a key for Butler
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- One Spring Training day carried big meaning for Rockies second baseman Brent Butler.
Butler had a slim chance of making the Opening Day roster as Colorado faced Arizona's Cy Young award winner Randy Johnson.
"That was the first time I had ever faced the guy, and I thought that if you can get a hit off him, you can get a hit off anybody," Butler said. "I had a home run, and then got two more hits. You sit back and say, 'Wow, did I really do that? This guy is one of the best in the game.'
"I knew it was Spring Training, too, and he's probably working on something; you don't know if he's trying to really get you out or what. But when you're young, facing him for the first time you've never done anything, it kind of helps you relax a little bit."
It wasn't as if Butler, 24, discovered a new confidence that day. As he put it, "you have it and sometimes you don't even realize it." But Butler knew that the quality that had helped bring him to that point, the ability to hit a fastball, would still be a strength against the best pitchers.
That has held true for Butler.
He wound up making the team for Opening Day, going down to Triple-A Colorado Springs twice, then returning for good June 16 to replace Jose Ortiz as the starting second baseman. Butler, whom manager Clint Hurdle gave a rare day off from the starting lineup Monday against the Braves, has batted .272 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs in 76 games with the Rockies.
Butler, who was being groomed as a utility player in the minors before the second base job opened, has 48 starts at second, five at shortstop and three at third base.
"He's got a pretty good batting average for the pitching he's seen since he's been here and he's played solid defense," Hurdle said. "What he's done is established himself as a big-league player."
Colorado sent pitchers Darryl Kile and Dave Veres to St. Louis after the 1999 season for four players, with the obvious key being current closer Jose Jimenez. Pitchers Manny Aybar and Rick Croushore were dealt during the 2000 season. But general manager Dan O'Dowd had a good feeling Butler, the only player in the deal without Major League experience at the time.
"I got a chance to see him in (St. Louis') minor league system, in Rookie ball and the (High-A) Carolina League, and he always could hit," O'Dowd said. "He's gotten better and better as this year has gone along. He's settling in at the Major League level."
Where Butler will eventually settle is anyone's guess.
His versatility has always made him special. The Cardinals drafted him in 1996 out of Scotland High in Laurinburg, N.C., in the third round as a shortstop. By the time he had reached Double-A, Cards minor league officials said he was their best defensive third baseman but his lack of power at the time kept him from that position. Now, the Rockies are deciding whether to keep him at second or have him start regularly but float among the three positions.
"As long as you're in the big leagues and as long as you're playing, I don't think you can be too picky," Butler said.
As long as he can hit a fastball, he has a place.
Odd man is in: Hurdle placed outfielder Gabe Kapler in the No. 2 spot in the batting order for Monday's game with Atlanta. Since being acquired from Texas on July 31, all Kapler has done is hit -- when he's been given a chance. In 11 appearances, four of them starts, he was 6-for-19 (.316) with two triples and two RBIs. Since outfielder Jay Payton arrived the same day and has been hot, and recently promoted outfield prospect Jack Cust getting more matchup possibilities because he bats left-handed, the right-handed hitting Kapler's playing time has been sporadic.
No celebration:Center fielder Juan Pierre, who went 3-for-9 over the past two games after struggling mightily during the road trip, is not proclaiming his slump finished. "I've done that before, thought that now that I have a couple of hits then I'll get on a roll, so I won't fall into that trap," he said.
Fantasy edge: Shortstop Juan Uribe hit safely in 10 of his 16 August games going into Monday afternoon.
Thomas Harding covers the Rockies for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.