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Burnes quickly ascends to key role for Brewers

Aguilar out Sunday due to cramps; Guerra, Peralta to return vs. Nats
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

MILWAUKEE -- Corbin Burnes' rise from the 2016 Draft to high leverage Brewers reliever two years later was fast. But that's only part of the story.

Burnes didn't even pitch full-time until 2013, his senior year at Centennial High School in Bakersfield, Calif. He was a self-described slow-footed, slap-hitting middle infielder before that, and since he had no ambition of playing professional baseball at the time, he essentially answered, "Why not?" when it was suggested he move to the mound.

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MILWAUKEE -- Corbin Burnes' rise from the 2016 Draft to high leverage Brewers reliever two years later was fast. But that's only part of the story.

Burnes didn't even pitch full-time until 2013, his senior year at Centennial High School in Bakersfield, Calif. He was a self-described slow-footed, slap-hitting middle infielder before that, and since he had no ambition of playing professional baseball at the time, he essentially answered, "Why not?" when it was suggested he move to the mound.

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He threw a fastball, curveball and changeup in high school, topping out at 87-88 mph. Burnes added a cutter once he got to St. Mary's College, where head coach Eric Valenzuela helped morph the pitch into the lengthy, nasty slider Burnes is known for today. His ERA fell and his strikeout rate rose in each of his three collegiate seasons.

Along the way, Burnes grew four inches and filled his frame. The Brewers made him their fourth-round Draft pick.

"I was still learning all through college," Burnes said.

He proved a quick learner. Burnes, the Brewers' top pitching prospect according to MLB Pipeline, shot through Milwaukee's Minor League system in two calendar years, earning 2017 Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors with the third-best ERA (1.67) of qualified pitchers throughout Minor League baseball. When the organization shifted Burnes to the bullpen this season at Triple-A Colorado Springs, manager Rick Sweet and pitching coach Fred Dabney presented it on June 14 as "good news," Burnes said. It meant a quicker path to the Major Leagues.

"I'm just making the most of every opportunity," Burnes said. "I'm all for it."

There was no breaking-in period. Burnes' big league debut came July 10 in Miami, when Burnes inherited a two-run lead in the eighth inning and, after airing his very first pitch to the backstop, settled in to retire all six batters he faced for a two-inning save. On July 14, he pitched two scoreless innings in Pittsburgh with the Brewers down a run.

Video: MIL@MIA: Burnes goes 2 scoreless in debut to get save

And on Saturday against the Dodgers, Burnes inherited a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fifth inning of a game the Brewers trailed, 2-1. Burnes escaped without allowing a run, then pitched a scoreless sixth and was rewarded with his first Major League victory when the Brewers rallied to beat Clayton Kershaw.

"It's been based on need a little bit," said Counsell. "And he's handled every situation wonderfully. He's going to give up runs here, but there's a reason he's a very highly thought of player, and a reason he shot through the Minor Leagues. That's part of the reason we're using him in these situations. It's been a shot in the arm for our bullpen."

Like they said about Josh Hader last year, Brewers officials say they view Burnes as a starting pitcher long-term. But unlike Hader, who works primarily with two pitches and was so dominant in relief that he stuck, it sounds as if the club means it about Burnes.

"Corbin will be a starter next year. For sure. One hundred percent," Counsell said. "There is no debate on that one."

For now, Burnes will continue to contribute out of the bullpen.

"It's awesome to get the trust of Counsell and the staff to get put in the situations I've been in," Burnes said. "I'm going to keep trying to make the most of it."

Last call
• The Brewers held Jesus Aguilar out of Sunday's series finale against the Dodgers after he reported tightness in his hamstrings on Saturday night. Aguilar, who entered the day as the National League's co-leader with 25 home runs, didn't get much of an All-Star break because he participated in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby before getting two at-bats for the National League in the game itself.

Junior Guerra is expected to be ready to come off the disabled list (right forearm strain) to start Tuesday's game against the Nationals at Miller Park. The Brewers plan to recall Freddy Peralta from a brief assignment to Class A Wisconsin to start Wednesday's series finale.

• Another starter on the 10-day disabled list, Zach Davies, is scheduled to test his injured back by throwing live batting practice on Monday. The next step would be a Minor League rehab assignment. One of Monday's hitters will be first baseman/outfielder Eric Thames, who has a chance to return from the 10-day DL (hamstring) when he's eligible on Tuesday.

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

Milwaukee Brewers, Corbin Burnes