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Crew sticking with young arms despite hiccups

@AdamMcCalvy
April 13, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- Even though “the chips are all in now,” as Brewers owner Mark Attanasio put it on the first day of Spring Training, he expected some losing hands for a team committed to three young and unproven pitchers in the starting rotation. Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Brandon

LOS ANGELES -- Even though “the chips are all in now,” as Brewers owner Mark Attanasio put it on the first day of Spring Training, he expected some losing hands for a team committed to three young and unproven pitchers in the starting rotation.

Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff have each pitched three times, and have combined to allow 37 runs on 53 hits in 43 2/3 innings for a combined ERA of 7.63. They have surrendered 13 home runs -- nine off Burnes, who yielded three homers for the third time in as many big league starts in Friday’s come-from-behind win over the Dodgers.

“Look, I prepared myself,” Attanasio said. “It is Major League Baseball, right? … So I was prepared for it. And look, I had some apprehension of going with three, say as opposed to two. But starting with our manager, Craig [Counsell] is all in for, ‘We have to take risks.’

“So, some of the downside of the risks are we have three young starters who have had some growing pains, and you have a lineup that’s not hitting, and you’re 9-5 [entering Saturday]. That’s pretty good.”

Of the three, Burnes’ struggles have been most acute. He will remain in the rotation, Counsell said Friday night. On Saturday, Burnes had a 20-minute chat in the dugout with pitching coach Chris Hook after spending the afternoon in the video room examining the patterns of the home runs he’s allowed.

One slider and eight fastballs. Three right-handed hitters and six left-handed hitters.

“We have to execute pitches,” Counsell said. “That’s what this comes down to. There’s nothing dramatic to me in the numbers that I’ve looked at that are red flags. Look, he’s doing something that’s harder. He’s making a jump to starting pitching. The other team gets to pick the hitters instead of us picking the hitters, and that makes it harder. And he’s facing hitters multiple times.

“These are all challenges that are different and make comparisons to last year as a bullpen guy not completely applicable.”

There’s one universal, however: To succeed in the Major Leagues, a pitcher has to throw with conviction.

“There’s a lot of confidence,” Burnes said. “If you look at the radar gun, we’re still throwing 95-96 mph with a little bit of cut to it. It’s still a good pitch, still a go-to pitch. Maybe it’s something we’re throwing a little too often and getting too predictable. Some of the pitches guys have hit out are pitches that last year they were swinging through.”

Two such pitches stand out. Joc Pederson homered Friday on a fastball in and above the strike zone. Six days earlier against the Cubs, Jason Heyward homered off a fastball at the top of the zone.

“A lot of those pitches are normally pitches those guys are going to swing and miss on,” Burnes said. “It could be a matter of they know it’s coming. So we need to do a better job of mixing more. I think that’s the biggest thing we need to look at now.”

He appreciated Counsell’s commitment.

“The rate that we’re going right now, it’s definitely alarming,” Burnes said of the home runs. “But in the past, it hasn’t been an issue for me. We’ll get it figured out.”

Burnes will be granted time, to a point. So will Peralta and Woodruff, who get the first two games against the Cardinals when the Brewers return home.

“I know that Woody and Freddy and Corbin have a huge amount of talent,” Attanasio said. “I love the talent. Listen, I think they all proved they can pitch in the bullpen, but that’s not the plan. They can all pitch. We’d like to pitch them in this role.”

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.