Burnes reaches new heights without windup

April 20th, 2021

One factor in ’ transformation from one of the National League’s most hittable pitchers in 2019 into a Cy Young Award contender in 2020 and so far in '21 is so obvious, you might have missed it. He abandoned the windup after 2019 and has been pitching exclusively out of the stretch.

Burnes explained the reasoning behind the change ahead of his scheduled start against the Padres on Tuesday, offering a glimpse into the delicate process of developing an ace.

“We made that adjustment after the 2019 season,” Burnes said. “It was just more about trying to get my mechanics as repeatable as possible. For me, the windup had lots of moving parts and a lot of things that made it tougher to kind of sync everything up. So that was kind of the easiest fix, is make everything as simple as possible.

“... The other side of it is your biggest pitches in a game are thrown out of the stretch. So if you were to happen to go three or four solid innings in a windup and all the sudden you get a guy on base when it's a 0-0 ballgame and your pitches count, all of a sudden you have to feel comfortable in a stretch position. For me, it was just, ‘Pitch one, let's just do it all out of the stretch and get the most comfortable there because that's where you're going to make your biggest pitches in the game.’”

It’s hard to argue with the results. Burnes went from an 8.82 ERA in 49 innings in 2019 to a 2.11 ERA in 59 2/3 innings in ’20, when he finished sixth in NL Cy Young Award balloting. This season, he has a 0.49 ERA through three starts and 30 strikeouts versus zero walks. That’s five strikeouts shy of an all-time record for a starting pitcher; Adam Wainwright struck out 35 batters before issuing his first walk in 2013.

Are there any tradeoffs in abandoning the windup?

“I think some guys, it's more about the rhythm,” Burnes said. “They feel like they can get the better rhythm and timing in a windup, and then you try to kind of go on the fly, if you will, out of the stretch. But for me, I'm able to get the good timing and good rhythm out of the stretch and I don't feel like I need a windup.”

His co-ace with the Brewers, Brandon Woodruff, is one of those pitchers for whom rhythm is half the battle. When Woodruff fights through a start, as he did against the Cubs on the Brewers’ last homestand, often the trouble is tied to the tempo of his delivery.

The two discussed the topic just this week. They happen to like throwing their between-starts bullpens on the same day, Burnes a day earlier in the cycle.

“We have daily talks about new hitters, pitches, mechanics for that day,” Burnes said. “That was just something that sparked a conversation, what made that switch for me. I explained it was a comfortability thing. You make some of your big pitches out of the stretch. He agreed with that. It was just something that we bounced off each other and figure out why we do this and why we do that.”

Said Woodruff: “I think he is in such a good spot, not only mechanically but from the mental side as well. We're similar in that we both try to just keep it as simple as possible and nail down the rhythm and timing part of it. Seeing the transformation from '19 to last year when he started going full-time stretch and just knocking out that portion of the windup has been pretty cool. ... I think that's the cool part of our rotation. Everybody wants to learn from each other and feed off each other.”

Last call
• Here’s how Luis Urías explained his three-error night at shortstop on Saturday against the Pirates: “I would say it’s part of the game. Some days you feel like the best infielder ever, then the next day you’re like, ‘I don’t have the feeling.’ I think that was pretty much it.”

• Dee Strange-Gordon was still in the intake protocol as of the start of this week after agreeing to a Minor League deal with Milwaukee earlier this month. The signing should be official soon.

• Kolten Wong took batting practice and ground balls on the field with the rest of the team Monday as he continues his comeback from a strained left oblique. He’s eligible for reinstatement Tuesday, but manager Craig Counsell said the Brewers don’t expect to make the move until later this week in Chicago.

• Outfielder Lorenzo Cain remains shut down from baseball activities with a left quad injury, though he’s on the road trip. He will be sidelined beyond the 10-day minimum IL stint, Counsell indicated.