LOS ANGELES -- The rate of home runs off 24-year-old Brewers pitcher Corbin Burnes has gone from an oddity to a problem to something dubiously historic.
The Brewers needed a pair of comebacks in an 8-5 win over the Dodgers on Friday to let Burnes off the hook after he became the ninth pitcher since 1908, according to Baseball-Reference, to yield at least three home runs in three consecutive starts. Before Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson took Burnes deep, no pitcher had allowed at least three homers in three straight games since 2004, when the Reds’ Aaron Harang and D-backs’ Edgar Gonzalez each did.
Burnes will continue to get the ball. Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Burnes would start again as scheduled next week at Miller Park against the Cardinals, one of the teams that already touched him up.
“The ball getting hit in the air is going out of the park right now,” said Counsell. “We have to come up with some solutions for it.”
There is nothing in Burnes’ history that indicated this was coming. He allowed 11 home runs in 260 Minor League innings and was Milwaukee’s top pitching prospect before shedding that status during a brilliant run in relief for the big league club beginning last July. By October, Burnes was squarely in Counsell’s mix of high-leverage relievers. In 47 innings including the postseason in his rookie year, Burnes allowed four home runs.
In his first season as a Major League starter, Burnes has allowed nine home runs in 14 1/3 innings. That is 5.65 home runs per nine innings. The highest home run rate in a single season among Major Leaguers with at least as many innings as Burnes is 5.29 HR/9, for 1999 Phillie Joel Bennett. He allowed 10 home runs in 17 innings that season.
Burnes is mostly getting burned by his fastball. Eight of the nine home runs against him have come against heaters, including all three for the Dodgers on Friday. Seager hit a 95.8 mph pitch middle away, Bellinger hit a 95.4 pitch in and Pederson hit one at 94.5 way up and in.
“Like I said in the beginning, it’s going to be a process,” said Brewers catcher Yasmani Grandal. “He’s going to get hit. The best pitchers in the league, at some point got hit. So what can we take away from a game that’s positive and we can build on?”
Said Counsell: “At this level, right now, for him, he’s paying the price for mistakes on his fastball. That’s the thing we have to evaluate. But he’s going to get there. There’s too much stuff there. Way too much stuff there.”
Catching up with Knebel
Reliever Corey Knebel cannot yet travel while he recovers from April 3 Tommy John surgery in Los Angeles, so it was a fortuitous bit of scheduling that the Brewers came to him. Knebel, with his right arm in a sling, visited with teammates and said he was looking forward to a post-op appointment on Monday.
If everything checks out, Knebel believes the stitches will be removed and he will be cleared to travel to Phoenix to begin the long rehab process. Surgeons used a tendon from his right wrist to replace the damaged ligament in his elbow.
“It’s nice that [the team] is here so I get to get out of the hotel and move around,” said Knebel, who has been struggling to fill the time. “The first week, really, I was just waking up, going to eat, coming back and going to sleep, waking up, going to eat, coming back and going to sleep. I can’t do anything. I just have to sit here.
“Now I’m out walking around during the day. We’re walking down to the beach, pass the time.”
It took a while for the reality of what’s ahead to set in. Tommy John surgery typically requires a yearlong rehab.
“I didn’t really get that feeling until recently,” Knebel said. “When you start feeling it, that’s when it starts kicking in. I felt fine leading up to it, and then right after it, I was good. Now that the pain meds [are done] and you start feeling it a little bit, it’s like, ‘I got something done there.’”
Travis Shaw took two rounds of batting practice Friday afternoon to test his swollen right hand and said he was under no restrictions heading into the Brewers’ series opener against the Dodgers, even though he was absent from the lineup.
Shaw exited the Brewers’ previous game on Wednesday after being struck by a pitch on the right hand. He was hit in a similar spot during the season-opening series against the Cardinals.
“I’m fine,” Shaw said. “I’m good to go. It’s still pretty puffy, though.”
In the Minors, right-hander Jeremy Jeffress is scheduled for another rehab appearance for Triple-A San Antonio on Saturday. It will be his first outing since logging back-to-back appearances on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“We’ll see how it goes, and then move to the next step,” said manager Craig Counsell. “I’m confident that he will active on the homestand.”
The Brewers return home Monday for a weeklong homestand against the Cardinals and Dodgers.