Burnes wastes no time in Orioles spring debut

February 24th, 2024

SARASOTA, Fla. -- It was a picture-perfect day for baseball on Saturday afternoon in Sarasota. The sun was out, the sky was blue and was on the mound at Ed Smith Stadium, where he immediately started to strike out opposing hitters.

A sellout crowd of 7,950 packed the stands -- and plenty more tuned into the MASN broadcast at home -- to see Baltimore’s new ace in action after nearly a month of anticipation.

“That’s what you want, especially in a Spring Training scenario, where the organization is excited, the fan base is excited,” Burnes said. “So it was good to see everyone come out.”

Burnes had a strong Orioles debut in the team’s Grapefruit League opener -- a 4-3 walk-off win over the Red Sox -- working a scoreless first inning on 22 pitches, 13 of which were strikes. The 29-year-old right-hander (acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Brewers on Feb. 1) struck out a pair in the outing, sitting down both Ceddanne Rafaela and Wilyer Abreu looking to open his start.

After a two-out single by Bobby Dalbec, Burnes got Pablo Reyes to ground out to third base to end both the first and his day.

It was Burnes’ decision to try to throw about 20 pitches in his first outing of the spring. Entering his seventh year in the big leagues, the right-hander knows how to best ramp up to be ready for the start of the season.

“It’s more about getting to the point of, first off, where we want to be come Opening Day, what we want our pitch count to be there, and then working backwards,” Burnes said. “It’s a gradual buildup here in spring, so today, being at about that 20-pitch mark puts us on track to be where we want to be.”

Burnes will enter each of his Grapefruit League outings with a specific objective. On Saturday, he wanted to work on his slider, one of the multiple breaking pitches in his impressive repertoire.

Dalbec’s single came against a slider, as Burnes was using the pitch more often than he would in a regular-season start. But he was pleased overall with how the offering was coming out of his hand at this early juncture -- and so was manager Brandon Hyde.

“Really good stuff. I think he was really happy with his secondary stuff,” Hyde said. “I’m happy with it. First outing here, just an inning, but he’s right on track.”

Although Burnes’ debut for the Orioles was brief, it accomplished what was necessary.

“It was perfect,” Burnes said. “Today was just getting the feet wet, getting out there, getting on the mound, feel the adrenaline going again in a game situation, and then get to work with [catcher] Adley [Rutschman] a little bit.”

Rutschman enjoyed the opportunity to catch the newest addition to Baltimore’s rotation, and he’s been impressed with Burnes’ preparation so far this spring.

"It's top tier,” Rutschman said. “It's been awesome to work with him so far, get to see him do his thing in the weight room, in bullpens, just hanging around with the guys. It's amazing.”

Burnes was surrounded by plenty of Orioles regulars, with Rutschman behind the plate and center fielder Cedric Mullins, designated hitter Anthony Santander, left fielder Austin Hays and first baseman Ryan O’Hearn all playing in the spring opener. The lineup also featured Jackson Holliday (MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect) at second base.

Rutschman homered in his first at-bat of the spring, belting a solo shot to straightaway center field off Red Sox right-hander Garrett Whitlock in the first inning. He also threw out Dalbec trying to steal second to end the top of the third on a play that featured a nice tag by Holliday.

“Good to get that energy going in the dugout. Adley took a nice swing on his first AB there,” Burnes said. “These guys are on it like they never left off at the end of the season. It's exciting to see. An exciting, young team. I think everyone was excited to see Jackson out there today and get him out there. So it’s definitely an exciting time in the organization.”