When Angels Ty Buttrey decided to pick up a ball again in this past December for the first time in 10 months, he felt very good. Coming out of his hand, the throw felt as every other theow. It felt like the same activity he’d done for years and years before his abrupt retirement at the start of the 2021 season.
There was just one issue. His fastball was topping out at 87 to 89 mph. A far cry from the upper-90s heater he boasted out of the Angels’ bullpen from 2018-20 and you cab check out the latest baseball odds.
But from the time he started throwing to the start of spring training, his velocity was topping out in that 87-89 range. He hadn’t picked up weight in 10 months, let alone a ball. And getting back to where he wanted to be was going to take time.
"The mind thinks you can do one thing," Buttrey said, "and then the body has to line up with that."
Toward the end of spring training, Buttrey said he anticipated being ready to get MLB hitters out a couple weeks into the season. That timeline, though, has been pushed back. The season is six weeks old and Buttrey is still working on upping his velocity.
Buttrey has a 5.40 ERA in nine appearances for Triple-A Salt Lake. He’s collected three strikeouts and allowed three walks in 8 1/3 innings.
In the last week, he had a breakthrough, reaching 95 mph on the gun. The 29-year-old believes those last few miles per hour will come eventually. He hopes and believes he’ll get a big-league callup this season but noted the possibility that the opportunity might not come until 2023.
Buttrey, though, is happy to be playing baseball something that wasn’t the case a year ago. In his interview with The Athletic on Friday, he said he’s appreciative to be on the 40-man roster after his unceremonious exit. He’s being patient and willing to put the time in to be a good major-league pitcher again, whenever that may happen.
After being optioned to Triple A at the end of the 2021 spring, Buttrey retired from pitching. He said he’d lost his love for the game in an Instagram post at the time. He’d spent his career trying to prove everyone else wrong.
He spent the year away from the game in several ventures. He started a non-profit in the Virgin Islands with his wife, Samantha. They gained a following on social media, talking about various topics related to sports and otherwise. He contemplated driving an Amazon delivery truck or bagging groceries.
The year away gave him a newfound appreciation for the game he’d very publicly stated he no longer wanted to play.
"My perspective on the game — I couldn’t have had this if I hadn’t went through what I went through," Buttrey said. "I realized during that time off that I was forcing a lot of things. I was going to anyone and everyone to try and find an edge versus just understanding who I am as a pitcher."
In the end, though, the itch to play baseball returned. He’d been "burnt out" but felt ready to pitch again. After the lockout ended, the Angels were quick to welcome Buttrey back into the fold.
Buttrey spent most of the spring on the restricted list. Putting him on the 40-man roster would require removing someone else. It was a significant decision to add him to that roster. It was tangible evidence that the Angels believed he could help them win.
It has been a slow start for Buttrey with the Bees. He allowed his five runs in just two appearances. The strikeout numbers, though, are low. And his velocity is still working its way back.
"He’s pitching, he’s gotten better every time out," Angels general manager Perry Minasian said of Buttrey. "He’ll continue to pitch and we like what we’re seeing so far."
Minasian and the Angels’ front office have been good about communicating where things stand with him, Buttrey said. He’s also spoken with Angels bullpen coach Dominic Chiti, who checks in on Buttrey periodically. Buttrey believes the team wants to see him throwing faster with a good slider and changeup to mix in with the fastball.
If Buttrey had to put a number on it, he believes he’s at 80 percent right now, compared to 65-70 percent in spring training.