Ray gets serious about staying healthy; Burnes debuts

March 24th, 2022

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Outfielder Corey Ray was among the players impacted by the Brewers’ first round of cuts to big league camp on Wednesday. He knows he’s heading into a season in which health and performance will be more critical than ever.

The two have always been tied together for Ray, the fifth overall pick in the 2016 Draft. His healthiest season was also his best season; he hit 27 home runs in 135 games at Double-A Biloxi in 2018 and was Milwaukee’s Minor League player of the year. But Ray also has battled myriad injuries over the years, including a quad injury in 2021 that marred a season in which he also made a one-game Major League debut close to home at Wrigley Field.

“The positive thing,” Ray said of his ’21 season, “is that when I was on the field, I produced. I was almost as productive as I’ve been in my Minor League career. I think that’s something to build off of. This offseason, I changed my training regimen, changed my diet. I’m just trying to figure out how to stay on the field.”

Ray took a blood test to better determine dietary sensitives and identified which foods his body synthesizes best. He learned that his body needs more help recovering than others and has added tart cherry juice to his diet and protein shakes designed to help Ray get to deep sleep.

“Knock on wood, my body feels totally better than the last Spring Trainings, and we’re actually doing more to try to catch up to the time that we missed,” he said. “Hopefully that’s a good sign.”

Now, can he maintain it?

“Corey needs to stockpile at-bats,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He needs to play. He hasn't had, like, full seasons of at-bats, where I think you learn the most about who you are as a player and can get into grooves. Just because of things that have happened, he hasn't completely got that. So, it's an important season for him. I think we probably said that last year, too.”

Ray knows it. He was once the 30th-ranked prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline; that was in 2017, the year he played in the All-Star Futures Game. But Ray has fallen out of a Top 30 Brewers prospects list that included nine outfielders when it was unveiled Tuesday.

Three of the Brewers’ top five prospects on the new list are outfielders: No. 1 Sal Frelick, No. 2 Joey Wiemer and No. 4 Garrett Mitchell. Here’s one significant factor Ray has on all of them: He’s on the 40-man roster.

“They’re all big years, right? This is a very important year,” Ray said. “I’ve got a chance to help the team this year. It’s one of the first times I’ve come into camp able to say that. I think I’m in a position as far as roster-wise, as far as talent- and production-wise, that I can help this team win a World Series. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Last call

• Corbin Burnes got his first game action since winning the National League Cy Young Award when he threw 56 pitches over three-plus innings of Wednesday's 12-8 loss to the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. Burnes was charged with five runs on five hits, two walks and a wild pitch, but he struck out five and accomplished the most basic priority: “Get the cleats on the dirt again.”

“The focus today was to get back out there, get back on the mound and see some live competition,” he said. “I’ve thrown to a couple of live hitters but this was the first game action. … Everything felt great, body felt great. I just lacked the consistency a little bit today, but that will come.”

• Counsell hasn’t announced his plans yet, but here’s how the Brewers’ starters are currently lined up: Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, then Adrian Houser. Eric Lauer was lined up right after Houser before his scheduled start against the White Sox on Tuesday was scratched due to minor groin tightness. Lauer is expected to get back on turn over the weekend.

• The Brewers’ sixth starting option, Aaron Ashby, was one of the pitchers who worked behind Burnes on Wednesday night. He threw three perfect innings with three strikeouts in a sparkling 2021 Cactus League debut.

"We probably would have liked a little harder work in that one," Counsell said. "That's one where we sent him down for a fourth inning in the bullpen. He didn't throw a lot of pitches. When he's throwing strikes, you're going to get early swings and the ball is going to be on the ground."