As challenging as it is for the Angels to manage the workload of their best young reliever, it’s almost as difficult for Ty Buttrey to know when to let manager Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Doug White know that he might not be available some games.
“Being a rookie, you don’t want to cause any issues, you don’t want to be the guy who says I can’t throw today,” Buttrey said. “But in the long run I’d rather be healthy toward the end of the season than get overused now.
“I know some managers have abused guys. I’m aware of it. Brad’s aware of it. Doug’s aware of it. Everybody knows it can happen. But they’ve done a really good job handling it. That hasn’t been an issue so far.”
Buttrey, 25, retired the side in order in the eighth inning of Saturday night’s game to improve to 3-2 with a 1.23 ERA in 27 games. He has used his 98-mph fastball and wipeout slider to strike out 36 batters, walk seven and limit hitters to a .213 average and one home run in 29 1/3 innings.
He’s on pace for 75 appearances and 82 innings, which would be on the high side for a reliever in his first full big league season.
“But the body feels good right now,” Buttrey said. “The arm feels good.”
Acquired from Boston for second baseman Ian Kinsler in July, Buttrey has emerged as the team’s fireman, summoned anywhere from the fifth through ninth innings to douse hot spots, making him so valuable that Ausmus has to resist the urge to use him even more.
When a four-run lead shrunk to two in the seventh inning of the Angels’ 12-7 win at Oakland on Wednesday, Ausmus turned to Buttrey, who needed nine pitches to quell the uprising. Knowing Buttrey threw 26 pitches the game before, Ausmus resisted the temptation to bring him back for the eighth.
“I thought about it,” Ausmus said, “but I’ve got to think about this kid’s health, too.”
The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Buttrey has pitched on consecutive days seven times but has not pitched three days in a row. The Angels won’t let him. He has thrown a season-high 33 pitches twice; the Angels gave him three days off after each.
“I think it’s more about pitch counts than innings,” Buttrey said. “Going in for an inning and throwing five pitches compared to an inning where you reach 25 pitches, there’s a difference.”
Buttrey said he can determine before a game if he shouldn’t pitch.
“Usually you’re playing catch and you kind of feel that tightness, and that’s when you have to make a game-time decision,” Buttrey said. “That hasn’t happened yet, but if there’s a time I’m hanging or the ball isn’t coming out right, I definitely feel comfortable in letting them know I may not be available.
“If I go out there without my good stuff, it’s a detriment to the team. If I suck it up when I say I’m good, when I don’t really let them know when things are hurting, I’m not going to give them the best chance to win.”
Jose Suarez, the 21-year-old left-hander who was called up from triple A to make his major league debut Sunday, had his worst game of the season Tuesday when he replaced an “opener” to start the second inning and gave up six earned runs and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings.
“I didn't feel as focused,” Suarez, who had a 1.86 ERA in his first four starts for Salt Lake, said through an interpreter. “I had never started a game coming in for the second inning. It was my first time doing that.”
Ausmus said before Saturday’s game that he “would probably take that into consideration” but wanted to talk to Suarez before deciding whether to use an opener. After the game, the Angels announced that Suarez will start.