OAKLAND — In less than four seasons as a big league pitching coach Mike Butcher has already made a name for himself, having helped the Angels win consecutive division crowns, a league strikeout title and guiding Francisco Rodriguez to a single-season saves record.
But he has done his finest work through the first month of this season.
The Angels, after all, started the year with three starters on the disabled list, then lost two more in the first 11 games. Yet after Tuesday's 5-3 win over the Oakland Athletics, the patchwork rotation Butcher was left with leads the American League in earned-run average (3.60) and is tied for second in wins (11).
"It's not me, man" Butcher said. "Our guys are doing all the work."
Consider the case of Tuesday's starter -- and winner -- Shane Loux, who was out of baseball less than two years ago and appeared to be out of luck when the Orioles loaded the bases on him three batters into his last start.
But after a mound visit from Butcher, Loux retired the next three hitters, then finished that start with five shutouts innings to earn his first big-league win since 2003.
Four outs into Tuesday's start, Loux was facing another bases-loaded situation when Butcher again paid him a visit. Loux got the next batter to hit into an inning-ending double play, then finished the start with five more shutout innings to even his record at 2-2 and lower his season ERA by nearly a full run to 4.30.
"When he comes out there, it's not really anything about pitching," Loux said. "It's more about let's focus, let's remember the task at hand. All things that I sometimes overlook.
"As we're building a better relationship, it's moving into all aspects. And hopefully we're seeing some results."
Perhaps the most important move Butcher and the Angels made, though, was deciding to make no move at all after losing three-fifths of their rotation before the season opener. With several attractive free agents available, the team chose to go forward with what they had.
"They trusted us," Loux said. "It means a lot. When they tell us we're the guys and they're going to stick with us, you want to make them look like smart guys."
Yet if the starting rotation has been a successful work in progress, so has its lineup, which changed seven times during the team's seven-game trip.
One constant, however, has been Chone Figgins in the leadoff spot. Figgins had his second consecutive three-hit game Tuesday, scoring once and driving in two runs to key an offense that, over the course of the trip, averaged nearly six runs a game.
Oakland starter Dallas Braden, who had given up only two runs in his last three starts combined, gave up that many in the second inning alone -- though it was no fault of his own.
With two out and the bases empty, Braden got Juan Rivera to ground to third for what should have been the final out. But Bobby Crosby booted the ball and the Angels made him pay when Erick Aybar, Figgins and Gary Matthews Jr. followed with consecutive singles to give the Angels a 2-0 lead.
After the Athletics cut that advantage in half in the bottom of the second, consecutive two-out hits by Aybar, Figgins and Matthews in the fourth -- the last one a two-run double -- gave Loux a little more breathing room. Figgins drove in the final run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
The Athletics made it interesting in the ninth when Matt Holliday hit a two-run home run off Scot Shields, but Brian Fuentes came on to get the final two out for his seventh save.