Ty Buttrey returns to the Angels ready to be an asset to the bullpen

Angels relief pitcher Ty Buttrey throws to a Texas Rangers batter.
Angels relief pitcher Ty Buttrey throws to a Texas Rangers batter during the ninth inning on Sept. 10, 2020, in Arlington, Texas.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

The game he played and excelled at since he was a kid chewed him up and spit him out last April, Ty Buttrey walking away from baseball three days after his 28th birthday because, as he wrote in an Instagram post, he “completely lost the drive to continue doing something that I didn’t love.”

It took the exuberance of a bunch of kids from the Virgin Islands, where Buttrey conducted a baseball and softball skills camp last fall, to rekindle his love for the game, a reconciliation that has the hard-throwing right-hander back in camp with the Angels and trying to win his old job this spring.

“Seeing those kids down in St. Croix light up at the opportunity to play baseball kind of sparked something in me that wasn’t really there,” Buttrey said. “I enjoyed coaching, talking about the game, being there all day helping these kids. I think I just looked at the situation [last year] incorrectly at the time.”


Buttrey was one of three prospects the Angels acquired from the Boston Red Sox for veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler at the trade deadline in 2018.

The 6-foot-6, 240-pound right-hander spent 6 ½ years in the Red Sox organization without reaching the big leagues, but the Angels thought his 98-mph fastball and sharp-breaking slider would play in the back of their bullpen.

Buttrey fulfilled that potential in 2019, pitching so well for three months — he went 4-4 with a 2.20 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 41 innings of 40 games through July 5 — that he emerged as the team’s fireman, summoned anywhere from the fifth through ninth innings to douse hot spots.

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But the heavy workload took a toll, and Buttrey struggled after the All-Star break, finishing with a 6-7 record and 3.98 ERA in 72 games, with 84 strikeouts and 23 walks in 72 1/3 innings.

Buttrey was erratic in pandemic-shortened 2020, going 2-3 with a 5.81 ERA in 27 games, striking out 18 and walking nine and yielding an .837 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 26 1/3 innings.

Buttrey was optioned to triple-A Salt Lake at the end of camp last spring. He took the next week to ponder his future and opted to retire.

“As time went on, baseball became more of a business and less of a game,” Buttrey wrote in his farewell post. “I couldn’t help but notice my love and passion for the game had started to diminish.”

Away from the game, his love and passion for outside interests — becoming an entrepreneur, delving into social-media projects, starting a nonprofit with his wife, Sam, in the Virgin Islands — started to increase.

“It’s pretty simple. From the time I was young, baseball was my life 24/7, but I’ve always had other passions that I never really had that opportunity [to pursue],” Buttrey said this week. “I needed a new perspective, a fresh start, time away.

“Experiencing something other than baseball, I gained a whole new perspective on this game. To be able to come here and throw a baseball for a living in front of thousands of people is a really cool job, you know? I kind of took that for granted.”

Angels manager Joe Maddon said he could “appreciate the confusion” Buttrey felt last spring.

Angels relief pitcher Ty Buttrey and catcher Max Stassi celebrate their win over the Texas Rangers.
Angels relief pitcher Ty Buttrey, left, and catcher Max Stassi celebrate their win over the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

“I read Kurt Vonnegut at that age — he messed me up,” Maddon said. “Jerzy Kosinski messed me up. I had to fight through those authors at that time. We all get confused at different points in our life and hope that you come out on the other side.

“When I say confused … OK, he doesn’t want to play baseball anymore. Does that make him wrong or bad? Of course not. But I think that afforded him the opportunity to understand and realize how much he missed this, and I think that’s the driving factor behind him being back here.”

Buttrey, who moved from Florida to Houston last year, waffled about a potential return in the fall before having his epiphany on Dec. 3 — “I remember the exact day,” he said — shortly after he returned from the camp in the Virgin Islands and one day after the start of an eventual 99-day lockout.

His agent informed the Angels, who still own his rights while Buttrey was on baseball’s restricted list, that he wanted to return. Buttrey started throwing and working out under the guidance of former Angels pitching coach Doug White and strength and conditioning coach Lee Fiocchi.

Buttrey feels like he is physically and mentally ready to compete for a spot in a bullpen that will be anchored by closer Raisel Iglesias and veteran left-hander Aaron Loup.

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“I think I’m right there,” Buttrey said. “I busted my ass the last three months. I’m probably right where I would be coming into any spring training.”

If Buttrey doesn’t break camp with the Angels, he said he would “absolutely” report to triple A.

“I’ll go to double A, high A, low A, I’ll even stay here,” Buttrey said, referring to the Arizona rookie league. “That’s the cool thing. There was always a fear of failure in the past, having [the pressure] to impress people. Now it’s like, mentally, my job is to work out, eat healthy, train and throw the baseball.

“I get paid to do it. I get to interact with awesome fans. That’s a freaking awesome job that I just didn’t have that perspective on last time. So I don’t care where I play. I love throwing hard, I love striking guys out, I love throwing nasty pitches, and I’ll do that wherever I can.”