Back in the middle of March, there was a piece here called, “Jose Butto should be in the rotation over Adrian Houser.” It was a good piece because it was a real opinion backed up with facts. Additionally, it was something just about no one was saying and even fewer were writing. Of course, even when it was written, my opinion was that it had zero chance of happening. But that was never the idea, that a piece would be published and then the powers that be in Mets-land immediately would do a 180.

Instead, in a perfect world, Butto would get his chance at some point in the year and when he did, he would proceed to out-pitch Houser. However, experience has taught me that even if the stars aligned in that way, people would claim – with a straight face! – that going to the minors is what Butto needed at the start of the year to have the success that he did.

So, imagine my shock when the stars aligned that Butto would get a chance to start the sixth game of the year. Not only that, he would pitch in a twinbill, with Houser getting the start in the opener. The odds of that happening had to have been greater than the odds of N.C. State making the Final Four at the start of the ACC Tournament.

And then Houser pitched a very good game.

However, we have to throw a caveat in there with Houser. One of the key points in that piece linked at the beginning of this article was that Houser was a 4-5 inning guy. On Thursday, Houser was great thru five innings. He didn’t allow a run and had a very low pitch count. So, he was sent out for the sixth. But after facing two batters, there were no outs and runners on the corners.

You could make a case that with a three-run lead, Houser deserved a chance to pitch his way out of the mess. And for most pitchers, that would have been my take, too. But Houser’s not most pitchers. Or, you could make the case that with two games to play, that the Mets needed to get as much depth from their starter as possible, so as to not blow up the bullpen. Again, this would be my take more times than not.

But in addition to the concern about Houser losing it immediately, there was the fact that no reliever had pitched the previous two days due to the rainouts. The bullpen was about as rested as it could be. Also, Yohan Ramirez was going to be available for the second game, as his suspension would be over. There was no need to babysit the bullpen in the sixth inning of the first game.

Now, we can argue the bullpen decisions that came after this one, most particularly bringing in Michael Tonkin in a time where the most likely outcome was for him to pitch a single inning, when his best attribute is to give multi-innings at a time at something resembling a league-average rate. But, in my opinion, Carlos Mendoza handled the pen correctly with regards to when to remove Houser.

And then Butto got his start in the second game.

Unlike Houser, Butto ran into trouble right away. While he did not give up a run in the first inning, it took him 26 pitches to get thru the frame. Butto throws a variety of pitches but throws a four-seam fastball most often. And in the first inning Butto threw seven of those fastballs and five of them were balls. It didn’t help matters that he couldn’t throw strikes with his slider early, either. This left him operating primarily with his sinker and change. Plus we have to recognize that he prefers to throw the change versus LHB, using his slider against the righty batters.

It was more of the same in the second inning, as 12 of the 23 pitches Butto threw were called balls. Except this time, a run was scored against him. The Tigers’ run came on a walk, a stolen base with a throwing error by the catcher and a bloop hit to the outfield.

After two innings, Butto was down 1-0 and had thrown 49 pitches. It wasn’t looking good for either him or the team. But then Butto started throwing strikes and everything changed.

He needed only 11 pitches to get thru the third inning and only nine to get thru the fourth. Butto needed more pitches to finish off the fifth inning but it was still a 1-2-3 frame, with two strikeouts. After five innings, his pitch count stood at 83.

With the ease that Butto completed the last three innings, he was sent out for the sixth. And unlike Houser, he didn’t allow the first two batters to reach. Instead, it was another frame where Butto set down the side in order, this one needing just seven pitches.

In Game 1, it was the first start of the year for Houser, after he had thrown just 12 innings in four outings in Spring Training and hadn’t really built up his pitch count. Butto already had a start in the minors where he threw 83 pitches. And now he was at 90 pitches, with four straight frames where he was in complete control.

You could make a case that Mendoza should have treated Butto like he did Houser in the opener, sending him out for another frame and then yank him at the first sign of trouble. But the Mets had the lead when Mendoza did that with Houser. Here, he trailed by a run and had watched his team being held hitless thru six innings. So, he went to the pen at the start of the inning, giving his reliever a clean inning with which to work.

It was a tad disappointing but it made sense to pull Butto when Mendoza did. His final line was: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 Ks. Those numbers worked out to a 1.50 ERA and a 2.76 FIP, numbers better than the Mets’ other starters besides Sean Manaea.

Since Butto was optioned before the start of the year, he couldn’t be recalled before 15 days, unless a player went on the IL. And the Mets had the chance to exploit that clause, with Tylor Megill being placed on the 15-day IL. But the Mets didn’t call up Butto then, opting to go with reliever Reed Garrett, instead. Butto was able to pitch on Thursday as the 27th man teams are allowed to use in doubleheaders.

Because of that, Butto needed to return to the minors after the game, despite how well he pitched. But given how well he pitched in the majors in September of last year, along with his excellent Grapefruit League campaign and now his spot start in the majors – it should be clear to everyone that he’s more than a worst-case option for the Mets.

We’ll have to wait and see how long the leash is for other starters. Hopefully, Houser can pitch as well as he did Thursday his next few outings, while Luis Severino rebounds from allowing six runs his first time out. But if those things don’t come to pass, the hope is the Mets don’t wait until the All-Star break to give Butto more than one start at a time.

There are rumors that the Mets are going to go to a 6-man rotation at some point in the near future, with 13 games in the next 13 days after yesterday’s twinbill. But even if they call Butto up to make a start in that stretch, will he get even two starts? In order to use the extra man in the rotation, you have to go one short in the pen. Will the Mets be willing to do that for more than a day?

We shall see. But what we’ve seen so far is that Butto is ready for prime time, even if the Mets are not. It’s always a bit nerve wracking when you explicitly stake out a minority position and then find that tested in the first week of the season. Pounding the table for Butto to be in the rotation could easily have backfired.

But it didn’t.

2 comments on “Jose Butto shines in his first MLB start of the season

  • Metsense

    The front of the Mets rotation with Senga and Quintana are solid. Severino and the recently ( and unnecessarily) signed Teheran will fill out the next spots. Manaea has been a mid rotation pitcher throughout his carreer. The Mets have good depth options for their rotation. Butto has earned a rotation spot because of last year. Houser has earned one too. In fact, he has a better career ERA then Manaea. And let’s not forget Joey Lucchesi. He also has a career ERA similar to Manaea. Peterson and Megill are the laggarts and would be depth starters but they are injured.
    Until Senga is healthy, Butto should take his place and Houser should the primary multiple inning relief pitcher.

  • T.J.

    Jose, Jose Jose, Jose Jose, Jose Jose.

    May we hear those chants at Citifield this summer!

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