When outfielder Matt Butler drilled a pitch against
Detroit’s Daniel Dobberowsky deep down the right field line
with the bases loaded in the second inning of Sunday’s early
game, one thing kept running through his mind.

“I was hoping it wasn’t going to go foul,”
Butler said. “The wind was kind of blowing toward the right
field line, but I was fortunate it stayed fair.”

Not only did it barely stay fair, it also scraped over the fence
for a grand slam in Michigan’s 10-5 victory. It was the only
homerun of the four-game weekend for Michigan (9-9), and it came
from the most unexpected of hitters.

At 5-foot-6, Butler does not inspire fear in the hearts of
opposing pitchers, but maybe that should change. The junior —
who had belted just one homerun in 84 career games coming into this
season — already has three in 18 games this year, tying him
for the team lead. He ranks first on the squad with 18 RBIs, as
well.

But Butler brings much more than power to the table. His six
stolen bases lead the team, and he has put together an immaculate
fielding percentage (1.000) from rightfield and centerfield.

Perhaps most importantly, the fan favorite brings energy and
enthusiasm to the game.

“He packs a powerful punch,” head coach Rich Maloney
said at the conclusion of the weekend set. “That little man
is a big man. He plays the game the way it should be played, with a
lot of passion. Here’s a guy with a heart, and he represents
who we are real well.”

Still, it’s extremely surprising to watch the diminutive
No. 19 hit the ball out of the park. Even Butler himself admits he
didn’t expect the power surge.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be put in situations
where there’s been people on base,” he said.
“I’m getting some good pitches to hit, so things are
kind of going my way. I don’t even hit home runs in batting
practice.”

Aside from some minor tinkering in the offseason, which included
altering his stance and switching to a slightly lighter bat, Butler
doesn’t credit his improvement to any specific change in his
approach to the game.

“I don’t think I’m hitting the ball that much
different,” Butler said. “Things are kind of just
working out. I want to hit (the ball) hard and on a line and look
to be aggressive.”

Butler also recognizes teammate and first baseman Kyle Bohm for
the protection he provides in the batting order. A hard-hitting
transfer from Auburn, Bohm has jumped out to a quick start this
year. Batting third, in the spot immediately following Butler, he
went a combined 5-for-7 from the plate on Sunday against Detroit
and Oakland to raise his team-leading season average to .429.

“There aren’t a lot of times when (opposing
pitchers) are going to be throwing me a lot of junk,” Butler
said. “They don’t want to put me on to get to
(Bohm).”

Maloney, who is also impressed with Butler’s developing
ability to hit to all fields, believes that Butler’s improved
play has been vital to the team’s progress.

“We really need some guys to step up,” Maloney said.
“We’re getting that (from Butler). I’m real
excited that he’s doing so well. He’s been a joy to
watch.”

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