PREVIEW: BJ Butler takes fast tempo into Bowling Green series
Editor's note: Ball State announced Friday that the final two games of the series will now be a doubleheader beginning Saturday at noon. This article has been updated to reflect the change.
BJ Butler doesn't wait long between pitches.
The senior right-handed pitcher just catches the ball, gets his sign and fires away for Ball State baseball (15-18, 3-6 MAC). Earlier this season, he ended an inning in less than two minutes — less time than a standard commercial break in a Major League Baseball broadcast.
Ball State statistics
Record: 15-18 (3-6 MAC)
Batting average: .256
Runs per game: 5.18
Friday: BJ Butler (3-4, 2.65 ERA)
Saturday (game one): Evan Marquardt (2-4, 5.29 ERA)
Saturday (game two): Kevin Marnon (3-4, 4.24 ERA)
Bowling Green statistics
Record: 9-19 (4-5 MAC)
Batting average: .227
Runs per game: 3.93
Friday: Tyler Anderson (2-5, 2.96 ERA)
Saturday (game one): Zac Carey (3-2, 3.28 ERA)
Saturday (game two): Chase Antle (1-1, 3.27 ERA)
“It’s something I’ve always done," Butler said. "I like having a good pace of play. I know the fielders appreciate it — when someone’s on the mound and they’re kind of a human rain delay, the fielders can get flat-footed and not make as many plays."
Butler's rhythm is part of why he has the fourth-best ERA in the Mid-American Conference (2.65) and is tied for third with 45 strikeouts.
But sometimes, head coach Rich Maloney says Butler can work too fast.
“I’ve recommended to BJ, when he has the big pitch that he needs to make, to really slow it down for a second and make sure he dials it in his nugget so he can execute the pitch," Maloney said. "It doesn’t really matter what pitch you throw, it’s all about executing pitches.”
Maloney said there's two schools of thought when it comes to pace of play. Working quickly can help keep the fielders light, but taking time can put the batter in a position where they overthink.
"So sometimes you can quick pitch them, sometimes you can make them wait which bothers them," Maloney said. "Either way, you’ve got to keep them off balance.”
Clearly, Butler subscribes to the former.
"I feel like it’s my job as a pitcher," Butler said. "I want to get us off the field and back in the dugout and hitting as fast as possible.”
A quick inning in the field, especially after a big offensive inning, keeps the offense's energy up and keeps the opposing pitcher unsettled.
"That pitcher that just gave up those runs, he doesn’t want to go back out there," Butler said. "He wants to sit in the dugout, decompress and focus on that next inning.”
Junior infielder Seth Freed, who's played both second base and shortstop this season, said Butler's quick pace simplifies the game.
"You don’t have to second guess what’s going on, just go out there and play baseball,” Freed said.
With the MLB looking for ways speed up the pace of play, maybe it should just watch Butler pitch — his 100 pitch complete-game loss against Ohio on April 1 was over in two hours and one minute.
When talking about pitchers dictating the pace of a game, Maloney brought up one of his former players as an example. What current Chicago White Sox pitcher played for Maloney at the University of Michigan?
Ball State's bats vs. Bowling Green's arms
The Cardinals are riding a four-game winning streak in which they've scored 57 runs.
In the 17 games before the streak began with a sweep at Western Michigan, Ball State only scored 56 runs.
Several Cardinals have been on hot streaks — they're hitting a combined .406 in the last four — but senior outfielder Matt Eppers has been 13-17 over the last four games with eight runs, six RBIs, two doubles and a home run. Eppers now leads the Cardinals with a .311 batting average and a .459 slugging percentage on the season.
Bowling Green (9-19, 4-5 MAC) also has a 5.73 staff ERA, but redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Tyler Anderson (2-5, 2.96 ERA), junior righty Zac Carey (3-2, 3.28 ERA) and sophomore righty Chase Antle (1-1, 3.27 ERA) — the Falcons' three starters — have a combined 3.15 ERA with 76 strikeouts and 49 walks.
“Sometimes when you look at overall ERA, it’s not an indication because not everyone on that staff is pitching this weekend," Maloney said. "The three starters have some decent ERA, actually, and those are the guys we’re going to face.”
Maloney said the Cardinals will have to start hot against the Falcons' starters to get to the bullpen — all other Bowling Green pitchers have a combined 8.14 ERA with 87 strikeouts and 93 walks.
Ball State's arms vs. Bowling Green's bats
The Cardinals' performance at the plate has taken a lot of stress off of the pitching staff, Butler said.
In Saturday's start against Western Michigan, for example, he was credited with the win after allowing six earned runs in 5.2 innings on the mound.
“It was probably my worst start of the year, but the team still gets the win and that’s what we want," Butler said.
Ball State carries a 4.04 ERA into the series against a Bowling Green team that's only hitting .227 on the season. Maloney, though, said the Falcons are in a similar spot to where the Cardinals were before their hitting streak.
The Falcons don't run often — they're last in the MAC in both steals (9) and stolen base attempts (17). Senior infielder Greg Basalyga leads them with a .306 batting average and a team-high 17 RBIs.
Bowling Green is also coming off a 9-3 win against Kent State (17-11, 5-1 MAC), who swept Ball State earlier this season.
Ball State trails Bowling Green 53-61-2 in the all-time series, but the Cardinals are 7-3 against the Falcons in the last 10 meetings.
Chicago White Sox right-handed reliever Zach Putnam played for Maloney at the University of Michigan from 2006-08.
"He's been one of those guys where he'll walk around the mound a little bit, take some time," Maloney said.
The series begins 3 p.m. Friday at Ball Diamond, followed a doubleheader Saturday beginning at noon.