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3 takeaways from Crew's opening series

Burnes strong in Sunday finale, but staff requires patience
@AdamMcCalvy
March 31, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- For three innings in his first big league start, Brewers righty Corbin Burnes looked like the next coming of Nolan Ryan. Then the Cardinals offered a reminder of the growing pains associated with pitchers finding their way in the Major Leagues. Burnes racked up nine strikeouts through three

MILWAUKEE -- For three innings in his first big league start, Brewers righty Corbin Burnes looked like the next coming of Nolan Ryan. Then the Cardinals offered a reminder of the growing pains associated with pitchers finding their way in the Major Leagues.

Burnes racked up nine strikeouts through three scoreless innings before Paul DeJong hit a go-ahead homer in the fourth and Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt went deep in back-to-back at-bats in the fifth. Burnes was spared a season-opening loss when the Brewers rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat St. Louis, 5-4, at Miller Park.

“I take it as a good day,” said Burnes. “Overall, I threw the ball really well. Command-wise, stuff-wise, it was all there. That’s a good hitting lineup, and if you make mistakes they’re going to make you pay for it. I just happened to leave three fastballs right over the middle to three really good hitters, and they took advantage of it.”

Burnes, the 24-year-old who played a prominent role out of the bullpen last season, looked dangerous at the start. He carved through Goldschmidt, Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna after a leadoff double in the top of the first, then he struck out the side in the second and third innings as well. His nine consecutive outs by strikeout matched a franchise record set in 1984 by Bob Gibson -- “Not that one,” as a Brewers official put it.

Burnes departed after five innings and 87 pitches and was charged with four earned runs on six hits, with one walk and 12 strikeouts. His strikeout total fell one shy of Freddy Peralta’s franchise record for a pitcher making his first Major League start.

"These guys who pitched in October last year, I don't think we can surprise them with situations and have situations be too big for them,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. “That was a bigger atmosphere than this is, frankly."

With Burnes’ first start in the books, here are three pitching-related takeaways from the Brewers’ first series:

The young rotation requires patience

Peralta, Brandon Woodruff and Burnes have each had a turn, combining to yield 10 earned runs on 18 hits in 13 innings, with five walks and 20 strikeouts. Woodruff’s start was the best, a five-inning, two-run, 100-pitch effort in Saturday's 4-2 win. Peralta’s left the most to be desired. He lasted three innings and struck out only three.

"We feel like it's their time,” Brewers general manager David Stearns said. “These are three young but very mature individuals who have already performed at a very high level on very big stages. We take risks all over our roster, we take risks in our game strategy. It's how we believe we have to compete. We believe they're intelligent risks, calculated risks. And we have confidence that these guys are going to continue to develop and be very solid Major League starters."

Burnes’ slider is elite, but don’t forget the fastball

Of Burnes’ 12 strikeouts, six came on his sensational slider and six on a fastball that topped out at 96.3 mph, according to Statcast, and featured a remarkable spin rate averaging 2,913 rpm that gives the pitch its rising effect. That’s a record since Statcast came online in 2015 for an outing in which a pitcher threw at least 25 four-seam fastballs.

Anything north of 2,600 rpm is considered elite. The previous Statcast record was shared by Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, at 2,681 rpm.

“It was his fastball today that was the pitch,” Counsell said. “He has cut on his fastball and there was a little more on it today, is what it looked like the hitters were kind of telling.”

Bullpen roles are a work in progress

This should not be surprising, since the Brewers went into the season with their top two right-handed relievers -- Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel -- on the injured list. Josh Hader pitched twice against the Cardinals and was electric, throwing 30 pitches, all fastballs, and going nine up, nine down with seven strikeouts.

It will take big performances from other relievers to hold the fort until Jeffress returns from his shoulder issue. Particularly encouraging in the opening series were performances of left-hander Alex Claudio (two scoreless appearances), Alex Wilson (four outs in the heart of the St. Louis order on Saturday) and Matt Albers, who covered three scoreless innings with four strikeouts in a pair of appearances in the series.

“Matt Albers was the guy that threw the ball really well today,” Counsell said. “He goes out there two innings and pitches very, very well. Three up, three down both innings. We needed that.”

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