Burnes 'just not physically ready' for Game 4

October 13th, 2021

ATLANTA -- Shortly after led the Brewers to victory with six scoreless innings in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday, he met with Milwaukee’s coaching staff about how he could impact the series once more. He had interest in pitching again on short rest, something he’s never done in his career as a starter, and that became an even more enticing option in Game 4 on Tuesday with the Crew’s season on the line, down 2-1 in the series.

But in the leadup, after Burnes threw 91 pitches just four days ago, his body has not responded to allow him to be able to do so, manager Craig Counsell said. Nothing is of notable concern, the skipper added, but Burnes simply isn’t at a place where he could have impactfully started on Tuesday. Instead, that duty went to lefty Eric Lauer.

“And as the day's gone on, [Burnes is] just not physically ready to do it,” Counsell said. “He wanted to do it, but we had to make sure he was physically ready to do it. He's just not ready to do it.”

Asked whether the issue was primarily about how his arm and his body felt, Burnes said it came down to “a little bit of everything.”

“They came to me the next day and said, ‘We’re fine for it if it lines up, but you have to be 100 percent full-go ready to go.’ And just as the last couple of days have transpired, I didn’t recover the way I want to,” Burnes said. “It was a matter of, 'Do I want to go out there at 80-85 percent versus having Lauer full-go and fully rested?'

“It came down to the decision that they felt better with Lauer being 100 percent and a bullpen ready to go, and then me being 100 percent ready for Game 5.”

Burnes added: “I told them, ‘Hey, I’m good to go out there.’ They said, ‘Is it 100 percent?’ I said, ‘Not quite 100 percent, but I think I can give you a good outing.’ The better, probably smarter option was to go with Lauer, who is 100 percent ready to go.”

Counsell added that there was no expectation to use Burnes in relief, though the manager could always change plans depending on the tenor of the game and the sense of his NL Cy Young Award hopeful. Should the Brewers force a Game 5, which would take place in Milwaukee on Thursday, both Burnes and Brandon Woodruff (who entered in relief and got a first-pitch groundout to escape a sixth-inning jam in Game 4 and threw 12 pitches over 1 1/3 innings) would be on regular rest.

Postseason starters in the Wild Card Era (1995-present) have gone 30-45 with a 4.58 ERA, averaging five innings, on short rest following a start. (As a contrast, the Braves started veteran Charlie Morton against the Brewers in Game 4 on three days’ rest in a bid to close out the NLDS, as did the Dodgers with Walker Buehler on Tuesday with their season on the line as well.)

“I think this is why it’s important to have an open dialogue with a pitcher,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “If a pitcher really feels as though he has recovered enough and is close to 100 percent, then yes, it could make sense. I think what happens a lot, and we see this in the performance record with teams that do go with a short starter, is that the pitcher feels as though he is obligated to make a start and you sometimes get a pitcher out there who isn’t ready to do it.”

But electing against starting Burnes goes along with the approach the Brewers have utilized with their ace all season. He was thrown on fewer than five days of rest just twice this season and on six days of rest six times (discounting three starts due to extenuating circumstances).

Burnes' final three starts during the regular season each came after a six-day layoff as the Crew employed a six-man rotation and bullpen games.

There was some thought that this type of extra rest for Burnes could lead to something like what was posited for Tuesday -- pitching him with less of a layoff and with the season on the line. But that did not fall into Milwaukee’s plans.

Instead, Lauer -- off a great yet unheralded season -- was tabbed for the win-or-go-home contest. Behind him, “We'll look at everybody,” Counsell said.

“For me, it was going to be from five or six days’ rest to three days’ rest,” Burnes said. “If it was four days’ rest, then 100 percent I would have been ready to go. But being on five and sometimes six days’ rest for most of the year, to try to come back two days quicker, it was just going to be too much for me. It’s one of those things, I wish I could be out there. If it was up to me, I would take the ball every single day.”