MILWAUKEE -- Corbin Burnes' bid for history is on hold after the Brewers placed the right-hander on the injured list on Thursday without specifying an injury.
Burnes has struck out 49 batters in his first five starts this season without issuing a single walk, and he was to make a bid to break closer Kenley Jansen’s all-time record -- 51 strikeouts, no walks -- in a start against Jansen and the Dodgers this weekend at American Family Field.
“The only thing I can say is we made an IL placement and we are following Major League Baseball health and safety protocols,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “I can’t comment [on] more than that. I’m not going to speculate on a return timetable or anything along those lines.”
Burnes' next outing was originally scheduled for Saturday, but he was pushed back as the result of a cascade of medical matters for the Brewers, who have a remarkable 14 players on the injured list.
That list includes four starting-pitcher types: Burnes; Brett Anderson (right leg); Josh Lindblom (right knee), who was Anderson’s emergency replacement on Friday in Chicago; and Zack Godley, who pitched in Anderson’s spot Wednesday against the Marlins and was placed on the 10-day IL on Thursday after bruising his right index finger while bunting.
"I feel bad for Corbin," said Stearns. "He's worked really hard to get to this point, to have this level of success. And now he's got to press pause. Clearly, we want him back as soon as we possibly can get him."
The Brewers have announced injury designations for all of the players on their IL except for Burnes -- a strong indication that he is not injured. Stearns and manager Craig Counsell both said they were not authorized to share any specifics about Burnes’ absence.
Teams are limited by rule, and in some cases by law, in terms of what they can say about a player’s health beyond injuries. For instance, in the event a player tests positive for COVID-19 or has been in close contact with someone else who has, his team can only make that information public if authorized by the player.
“Look, I think seasons offer challenges,” Counsell said. “No season is going to be the same, and we're getting bit with injuries. I think we're playing well. I like our team. You have to push through times during the season like this. There's guys that are healthy and they're ready to go out and compete and ready to win a baseball game. That's what we've done so far."
Last year, when Brewers infielder Luis Urías and left-hander Angel Perdomo tested positive for COVID-19 during intake for Summer Camp, they authorized the club to say so. But after that, the Brewers were extremely successful in their effort to keep the virus out of the clubhouse. They were later informed they were one of only two teams in MLB that did not have a single COVID-19 positive for a Tier 1 individual from Opening Day through the end of the season.
This year, the Brewers and other teams have additional tools in place to deal with the virus beyond the every-other-day testing that remains standard. Among those tools are electronic contact-tracing devices that players, coaches and Tier 1 staff wear at all times, and which are used in the event of a positive test to determine who was in close contact, along with where and for how much time, with an individual who tests positive. The system dramatically shortens the time needed to properly trace and perform follow-up tests to prevent further spread.
The Brewers had firsthand experience of those protocols in action on the eve of Opening Day, when the system sprung into action following what turned out to be a false positive for COVID-19.
“It's a reminder that, you know, we're not really out of the woods yet with this whole COVID thing,” Christian Yelich said at the time,” and we need to take it on ourselves to be responsible and take the precautions that we need to. Fortunately, we got lucky.”
Losing Burnes for an undetermined period of time was another significant blow to the Brewers, who have managed to go 14-10 entering Thursday and stood atop the National League Central. His 1.53 ERA was fifth best among National League qualifiers as of Thursday afternoon and fifth best in franchise history for a pitcher’s first five games when they're all starts. Burnes leads the Majors with a 0.55 WHIP, and he's second in the Majors to the Mets’ Jacob deGrom with 15.03 strikeouts per nine innings.
“There's no reason to get upset about this; we just have to deal with it,” Counsell said. “We're working on getting guys healthy. You know, none of these injuries are very long term, and that's the bright side to all this stuff, is that none of these things are very long-term things. We will get these players back.
“In the meantime, early in the season we're learning about other players that are going to help us throughout the year. I think all these guys that are contributing, it's something we would have learned more without the way the season looked last year. So, you just roll with it. I think we're doing a decent job rolling with it, and I think we'll continue to do a decent job rolling with it.”
• Yelich (back) and Lorenzo Cain (quadriceps) both took at-bats on the field Wednesday against Lindblom, another positive sign of progress for the injured Brewers outfielders. Counsell has been reticent to make any predictions about a timetable for those players since Yelich’s absence in particular has exceeded the initial expectations, so Counsell instead said that Yelich would not play Thursday or Friday against the Dodgers, but his status beyond that is to be determined.
“I just don't want to speculate on it. We've done that enough,” Counsell said.
• With Burnes down, the Brewers have a vacancy in their starting rotation on Sunday against the Dodgers. Adrian Houser could pitch that day on regular rest, or the Brewers could use Bettinger or someone else. Counsell said he would wait until Saturday night to make that call.