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Updated: August 13th, 2010 11:23pm
Mackey: Suicide squeeze man Butera earning more and more respect

Mackey: Suicide squeeze man Butera earning more and more respect

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's not often a player receives a standing ovation after dropping down a bunt, but that's exactly what happened after Drew Butera successfully drove home Danny Valencia from third base on a perfect suicide squeeze in the fourth inning of Friday's 4-3 win over Oakland.

The bunt put the Twins ahead 4-2, and it wound up being the deciding factor in a one-run ballgame after Alexi Casilla's error gave the A's an extra run in the ninth.

"I knew it might be a possibility that Gardy would put it on," Butera said. "I try to think along with him every once in a while, and when we got ahead in the count I was like, 'he might put something on right here.'

"I've been practicing a lot. Anytime we have early hitting, either home or away, I try to spend about five, ten minutes on bunting just for those situations right there."

Putting in extra work is no rare occurrence for Butera. For his duties behind the plate, Butera diligently studies reports, watches film, and sits in on bullpen sessions -- something most backup catchers don't do, according to manager Ron Gardenhire.

"Drew will run out there and grab a couple of those guys, so he gets a chance to see them a little more than he would if he didn't," Gardenhire said during the Twins' last homestand. "His only real opportunities to see some of our pitchers are to go to the bullpen sessions. He's really good at that, making sure he catches guys."

"That's what I take pride in," Butera said. "I don't play a whole lot, and when I do I have to be ready. So I like to go down there, I like to catch in between starts, and whatever a starter is doing that day I like to go down there and listen to it, just watching and hearing what (pitching coach Rick Anderson) has to say."

Butera, who has become Carl Pavano's temporary personal catcher, went on to catch nine eventful innings on Friday night that saw 14 Oakland hits, three stolen bases, several balls in the dirt, and 18 total baserunners.

Pavano wound up allowing two earned runs over 6 1/3 innings, and with Butera as his catcher this season he has allowed just 19 earned runs in 65 innings (2.63 ERA), while striking out 42, walking 14 and allowing only three home runs.

"He's easy to work with," Butera said of Pavano. "He has a lot of knowledge, and he's taught me a lot from when I started playing with him until now. I like to think I'm pretty comfortable with him, and he might make a little funny comment here or there just to make it a little more relaxing.

"He has over 10 years in the big leagues, and for me he's one of the most knowledgeable persons at picking guys up, knowing what they do right and wrong, and how to call a game."

For Pavano, the feelings are mutual. Sort of.

"He's Italian, I'm Italian, so we have a good time together," Pavano said. "He shaved his mustache, so I was awfully upset about that."

Twins pitchers as a whole took a 3.93 ERA into Friday's game. With Butera behind the plate, that ERA is 3.61, and opponents are hitting just .247/.312/.399.

To be fair to Joe Mauer -- whose battery mates own a 4.08 ERA -- we're dealing with a small sample size here, and it's entirely possible other factors could be in play, such as weaker competition, fewer games with a struggling Nick Blackburn, etc.

While he remains an offensive liability -- Butera enters the weekend hitting just .208/.245/.333, although to his credit he's been much better since July 21, hitting .275/.326/.475 -- the young catcher has clearly held his own when calling games defensively.

"He's a warrior," Pavano said. "He picked us up when we needed to get picked up. Joe, physically, was going through some things, and I think we got him back on track and he's feeling good about it, and Drew was able to step in. There aren't many guys that can do that. It's a credit to him, and a credit to his competitiveness, and a credit to us pitchers to take it to him. I can't say enough about it, the job he's done for all of us."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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