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Can Burnes force way into Brewers' rotation?

Right-hander having spring that is impossible to ignore
@JakeDRill
March 10, 2020

PHOENIX -- Corbin Burnes has impressed Brewers manager Craig Counsell with his “electric arm.” He’s wowed his teammates with an arsenal of pitches they’ve simply described as “gross.” Yet, the 25-year-old right-hander still could be out of Milwaukee’s 2020 rotation picture.

PHOENIX -- Corbin Burnes has impressed Brewers manager Craig Counsell with his “electric arm.” He’s wowed his teammates with an arsenal of pitches they’ve simply described as “gross.”

Yet, the 25-year-old right-hander still could be out of Milwaukee’s 2020 rotation picture.

Earlier this spring, Counsell said Burnes was behind left-hander Eric Lauer and right-hander Freddy Peralta in competition for the No. 5 spot. And Counsell isn’t modifying that declaration now.

“I wouldn’t change that assessment,” Counsell said, “but I think that’s why we still have him.”

So, with less than three weeks until Opening Day, perhaps there’s still time for Burnes to force his way onto the Crew’s staff. It may have helped that he continued his strong spring on Monday night, tossing four dominant innings in the Brewers' 2-1 walk-off win over the Mariners at American Family Fields of Phoenix.

Burnes allowed his first run of the Cactus League slate in the fourth, when he gave up a leadoff home run to Kyle Lewis. However, he then fanned the side, boosting his strikeout total to six. He’s struck out 13 over 10 innings and has a 0.90 ERA this spring.

When Burnes wasn’t fanning Seattle’s batters, he was mostly keeping the ball on the ground. He induced five groundouts to one flyout.

“Whenever you can get ground-ball outs and save some pitches, that’s a plus,” Burnes said. “That’s one of the things I’ve been working on with fastballs, command-wise when to be up in the zone, when to be down in the zone.”

In 2018, Burnes impressed in his first big league stint, posting a 2.61 ERA over 30 relief appearances for the Brewers. However, he struggled last season, as he had an 8.82 ERA in 32 games.

Burnes opened ‘19 in the rotation, but he went 0-2 with a 10.70 ERA in four starts. Although he started some in the Minors after that, he never made another start for the Crew and also missed some time with right shoulder irritation.

“I don’t really know what happened last year. It was almost hard to believe how his year went,” Counsell said. “But he’s made some adjustments and put himself in a really good place, and I think he feels really good about what he’s doing. I think he’s very confident in the changes that he’s made and where that’s taking him right now.”

Over the offseason, Burnes worked on his mechanics at the Brewers’ pitching lab. He’s now seeing the positive results, which are also bringing increased confidence.

“Whether it was in the weight room, the mental side of it, working on some pitches, going out there I feel like I have more options this year,” Burnes said. “I don’t really feel like I get in situations where I get stuck, which is a good thing as a pitcher, so you always have a way to get out of it.”

If Burnes isn’t included in the rotation, he could pitch in relief. However, he’s being stretched out to start, so it may be more likely he’ll begin the season in the Minors.

For now, Burnes is focused on continuing his impressive spring and making more positive strides.

“I take every outing as it’s a regular game, whether it’s a bullpen session or just playing catch,” Burnes said. “For me, going out there, it’s another game. You’ve got to go out and compete.”

Jake Rill is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JakeDRill.