Butler befuddled with lack of playing time

'I've never been in this position before,' A's DH says of starting only 8 games

May 4th, 2016

OAKLAND -- Billy Butler isn't pouting, but he's certainly perplexed as to why he's been reduced to a platoon role on an A's club that handed him $30 million to be their everyday designated hitter.

Butler, one month into the second year of his three-year contract with Oakland, was on the bench again in Tuesday's 8-2 loss against right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma. He hasn't started since Wednesday -- a stretch of six straight games -- and he's appeared in the starting lineup only eight times in the team's first 28 games.

"From my end," Butler said Tuesday, "there's no answers as to what's going on. I'm just not playing.

"I've never been in this position before. I've played every day of my life from when I was 7 years old, so this is something new. I don't even know how to exactly prepare for what I'm supposed to do because I've never had to do it, so I just try to treat it like I've treated everything else, like I'm a starter. I know I can do it in this game. There's not a lack of confidence in my abilities."

The A's have avoided categorizing Butler as a strict platoon player, in part, he thinks, because "it's hard for them to justify saying that because of my career splits."

Butler actually had reverse splits last season, hitting .269 against righties, compared to .200 against lefties. He's a career .286 hitter versus right-handers, as opposed to .302 against southpaws, and he's played in no fewer than 151 games since 2009, collecting at least 600 plate appearances in each of those seasons.

"You look at my career splits, they're not really platoon numbers, but that's the role I have on this team, so I have to make the best of my opportunities when I get them, I just haven't had many," Butler said. "It's just how it's been, how it's shaken out so far. We've got a lot of season left, though. I imagine things could change. It's not like we're killing the ball offensively, so I'm sure they're going to try to find the right mix, and hopefully I can capitalize on my opportunities."

The A's offense has been mostly disappointing in the early going, entering Tuesday's matchup with Seattle batting .235 as a club, with an American League-worst .287 on-base percentage. But this is an organization that rarely shifts from its platoon system, and Butler is beginning to wonder if he'll escape it.

The 30-year-old said he was told after the A's opening series, in which he notched three hits in a combined three starts against lefties, that he would primarily only play against southpaws -- at least for a while. Five of his eight starts this season have come against left-handers, and he's also drawn five pinch-hit at-bats, collecting two hits in that span.

The A's have mostly turned to Khris Davis and Coco Crisp to DH against right-handers.

"It's felt like a strict platoon," Butler said, "but they've avoided those words."

"I know it's hard for him," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He hasn't had to go through this in quite some time. He's played every day.

"We do things a bit righty-lefty, and when you're not seeing any lefties, some time goes by, and mentally you have to be strong enough to work on what you need to work on in the meantime and not get caught up in, 'Well I don't have any at-bats, how am I supposed to perform?' That's just what you have to do sometimes when you play off the bench. Just have to try to keep yourself ready."

Butler didn't envision his tour through Oakland going like this -- "100 percent, no," he said -- but added, "I would expect an opportunity to play this year, an opportunity to play every day.

"I'd like that comfortability of knowing I can just be myself and not put pressure on myself because I don't know when my next at-bat is going to be," he said. "You just kind of inevitably put more pressure on yourself. You try to avoid it, but it happens. It's hard to get comfortable. Your eyes light up on pitches you haven't seen in a while."