40 K's, 0 walks by Burnes has no precedent

April 21st, 2021

Forty strikeouts and counting. No walks.

And a couple of Major League records for .

The Brewers’ right-hander continued a sensational start to the season on Tuesday night by adding 10 more strikeouts in six scoreless innings of a 6-0 win over the Padres at Petco Park. Burnes leads Major League starters with a 0.37 ERA and leads the National League with 40 strikeouts. He has yet to walk a batter.

No pitcher has ever had a stretch like this. 

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, which has data back to 1893, when the pitching rubber was set at 60 feet, 6 inches, Burnes set the record for strikeouts by a starter without a walk. The previous mark belonged to Adam Wainwright, who whiffed 35 batters in 2013 before issuing a free pass. And according to STATS Inc., Burnes is the first pitcher in the modern era (since 1901) to have 40 strikeouts and no walks in a stretch of four games at any point in a season.

“You know, I've heard it from everyone in the clubhouse, so it's kind of hard to escape it right now: ‘Hey, you set a record tonight,’” Burnes said.

His response?

“I know. I know,” Burnes says. “Thanks, and let's move on.”

It’s hard to move on from such eye-popping numbers. When Burnes left his last start with 30 strikeouts and no walks in 2021, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said it like this: “That stat right there says everything, I think. That’s absolutely incredible.”

And Burnes kept it going in the early innings Tuesday. He struck out two batters in the first inning, one in the second and three in the third. He fanned opposing pitcher Chris Paddack on three straight cutters to end the third inning and break Wainwright’s record.

In the midst of all that, Burnes reached on an error in the top of the third during a five-run Brewers rally.

On the mound, Burnes’ next target is one of the game’s great closers. From Elias, here’s the list of pitchers in any role who have struck out 30 or more batters without a walk to start a season:

51: Kenley Jansen (2017 Dodgers)*
40: Burnes (2021 Brewers)
35: Adam Wainwright (2013 Cardinals)
31: Noah Syndergaard (2017 Mets)
30: Sean Doolittle (2014 Athletics)*
30: Billy Wagner (2004 Phillies)*
30: Dennis Eckersley (1990 Athletics)*

“I think it’s rubbing off on everybody -- all the way to the bullpen,” said Brewers right-hander Adrian Houser, who is scheduled to start the series finale Wednesday. “I think we’re all getting into that mentality of just going out and competing our butts off the whole time. Just leave it all out there and lay it all on the line for the guys. They’re going to be out there backing us up and doing what they can. I think it’s going well, and everybody’s feeding off of that.”

Burnes set about remaking himself after a miserable 2019 season, when he surrendered 11 home runs in four April starts, was demoted to the Minor Leagues and later sent to the Brewers’ high-tech pitching lab in Phoenix. He finished with an 8.82 ERA, highest in the NL among pitchers with as many as Burnes’ 49 innings that year.

He underwent Lasik surgery to correct his eyesight and worked with a mental skills coach. He reshaped his four-seam fastball into a killer cutter, which Burnes can better command. He ditched the windup in favor of pitching exclusively out of the stretch. He honed the curveball and changeup to put them on par with his plus slider.

It all came together in 2020, when Burnes emerged as a completely different pitcher. He posted a 2.11 ERA in 59 2/3 innings and finished sixth in NL Cy Young Award balloting. Then he picked up in ‘21 where he left off.

“When you’re going through some drastic changes, whatever they may be,” Burnes said this week, “the most important thing is to stick to the process of going through it and knowing that eventually it will come out better on the other side. It’s tough when you’re going through things to try to keep results out of mind. But it’s definitely good when you get to the point where you get good feedback.”

How’s this for feedback?

• Burnes has allowed one earned run in 24 1/3 innings this season. The only run was in his season debut, when the Twins’ Byron Buxton homered in the seventh inning to break up Burnes’ no-hit bid.

• Since then, Burnes has delivered 18 consecutive scoreless innings against the Cardinals, Cubs and Padres. Burnes has double-digit strikeouts in three of his four starts.

• Among qualifying Major League starters, only Carlos Rodón has a lower opponents average than Burnes’ .098. Only Jacob deGrom has a higher strikeout rate than Burnes’ 47.1%. No one has a better WHIP than Burnes’ 0.33.

• Of the 85 batters Burnes has faced, only 10 have reached a three-ball count. Only one batter has seen a 3-0 count: Tommy Edman of the Cardinals on April 8. Burnes came back to strike him out.

“I was obviously excited to go up against a dominant pitcher,” Paddack said. “I think the most surprising thing for me is no walks. That's pretty impressive on his end.”

Burnes deflected praise to left fielder , who homered in the third inning and made arguably the team’s best defensive play of the season in the fourth, when Burnes lost the feel for his breaking stuff. McKinney dove for Wil Myers’ fly ball down the left-field line to save two runs.

Burnes also praised catcher , who blocked a series of nasty pitches in the dirt after the Padres loaded the bases with one out in the fifth.

“I mean, I think I shook him one time tonight,” Burnes said. “Most of the credit goes to him.”

Burnes will try to keep throwing strikes in front of the home fans. His next scheduled start is Monday against the Marlins at American Family Field.

“Tonight, we'll kind of reflect on it and enjoy it and kind of celebrate a little bit,” Burnes said, “but then back at it and start preparing for the next one.”