SURPRISE, Ariz. — His face was red and his head was shaking as he entered the Royals clubhouse. Billy Butler carried a bag of equipment and a day’s worth of frustration.
By ANDY McCULLOUGH
The Kansas City Star
“If I have another day like this, I’m not going to have any bats left,” he said.
Butler shattered a pair during an early afternoon session of live batting practice. Danny Duffy broke one. The other one belonged to Bruce Chen. This was more difficult for Butler to accept.
First, Chen posed for a picture with the artifact. The team sent out the photo on its Twitter account. Then, Chen composed a message: “To Billy,” it read, “Get the head out! I own you!” As an addendum, Chen scribbled, “83 by you.”
For the coup de grace, Chen left the bat for Butler to find. He hung it on the top of a pair of urinals in the bathroom. In a clubhouse, this passes for a mantel.
The humor derives from Chen’s arsenal. He throws one of the slowest fastballs in the game. His average velocity in 2013 was 85.4 mph, which ranked fifth-lowest among pitchers with at least 50 innings of action, according to FanGraphs.
The lowest-velocity fastball is the 81.9 mph offering from Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Another belongs to Toronto workhorse Mark Buehrle. Chen’s other two contemporaries, Barry Zito and Shaun Marcum, have yet to sign with teams this season.
Chen will turn 37 this summer. He reinvigorated his career in Kansas City during the previous five years, and manager Ned Yost has called him “our best pitcher for the last three years.” This year, he will begin the season in the starting rotation. But he could flip back to the bullpen, as he did in 2013.
“He brings consistency,” Yost said. “Not only on the field, but in the clubhouse with his life and energy and his leadership in there.”
Chen often makes light of his lack of velocity. One day last week, he looked at the pitching schedule. As he often does, he shared a group with Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera, a duo capable of 100-mph heat. “The first three guys are hard throwers,” Chen said.
This time, the joke was on Butler. He walked into the bathroom, removed his bat from the mantle and placed it on a clubhouse table.
“I’m going to keep this,” Butler said. “This is awesome.”