Burnes dazzles with 11 K's in an O's debut for the ages

March 29th, 2024

BALTIMORE -- The defending American League East champion Orioles took the field Thursday afternoon to play their first game of a new era. The buzz around Camden Yards -- where David Rubenstein and members of his ownership group took in Opening Day with a sellout crowd of 45,029 fans -- was palpable well before the first pitch was thrown.

Then, stole the show.

In his team debut, Burnes racked up 11 strikeouts over six dominant innings to help power the O’s to an 11-3 win over the Angels in their first game of the 2024 season. The right-handed ace retired 18 of the 19 Los Angeles batters he faced, the only blemish being a two-out solo homer by Mike Trout in the first.

“Couldn’t have asked for anything more than that,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Awesome, awesome performance. That’s not easy to do -- new team, Opening Day, a lot of jitters, probably pretty anxious. And to go out and do what he just did, that’s really impressive.”

That type of performance is exactly why the Orioles swung a blockbuster trade on Feb. 1, when they acquired Burnes from the Brewers to boost the top of their rotation.

Burnes recorded at least two strikeouts in five of his six innings. Ten of them were swinging K’s -- six by curveball, two by cutter and two by slider. His offspeed breaking stuff was particularly effective during his 82-pitch (56-strike) outing, as he registered six whiffs on eight swings against his curve and four whiffs on seven swings vs. his slider.

“It’s one of those days where everything lines up, that you’ve got everything working, and it becomes a really fun day because you can just go about it in sequence and do some things that you don’t normally do when you don’t have everything working,” Burnes said. “After about the second or third inning there, we kind of went into cruise-control mode with just getting ahead and trying to get quick outs.”

The only pitcher to record more strikeouts in an Opening Day start in team history (since 1954) is Dave McNally, who had 13 in the ‘70 opener. Burnes’ 11 K’s are tied for second most with Mike Mussina (‘98).

Burnes set the record for most strikeouts by a pitcher in his O’s debut. It was only the second outing in team history of 11-plus K’s, no walks and no more than one hit allowed, the first being John Means’ no-hitter at Seattle on May 5, 2021.

Also, Burnes was the first pitcher with 10-plus strikeouts and fewer than two hits allowed in his team’s first game of the season since the Cubs’ Lon Warneke on April 17, 1934, per STATS.

And he joined Hall of Famer Bob Gibson (in ‘67) as the only AL/NL pitchers with 11-plus K’s, no walks and fewer than two runs allowed in an Opening Day start.

“It’s not just one thing he does -- it’s everything he does,” said catcher Adley Rutschman, impressed by Burnes’ complete arsenal while behind the plate.

Added first baseman Ryan Mountcastle: “That was unbelievable.”

The Orioles’ offense made it easy for Burnes to settle in at his new home ballpark (where he had pitched only once over his first six big league seasons). Baltimore took the lead on Jordan Westburg’s RBI single in a two-run first inning, then added three more runs in a second that featured a two-run single by Rutschman.

Anthony Santander (game-high four RBIs) belted a two-run homer in the fourth, then Cedric Mullins hit a three-run blast in the seventh.

“They won 101 games and the offense was so potent last year,” Burnes said. “When you return as many guys as you did with the experience they gained from last year, it becomes a very scary team. And I think they showed that pretty quickly.”

As Baltimore’s bats poured it on, Los Angeles couldn’t do anything to figure out Burnes. Including Trout’s homer, the Halos got four balls out of the infield vs. the righty -- and only one over his final three innings.

“He was very tough. I didn't see anything out there that he did that I haven't seen before,” Angels manager Ron Washington said. “You give him a lead, and he knows how to take it to the finish line -- and he took it to the finish line.”

After Burnes threw his final pitch, he walked off the mound, pounded his glove and looked up at the crowd, roaring in approval.

It’s going to be a fun season in Baltimore.

“They were loud, they were on it from pitch one,” Burnes said. “So to soak that in and know that, hey, this is Game 1, but we’ve got 161 more games of this. And these fans want it more than anyone. They’re going to be there supporting us March 28 to [Sept. 29].

“It was a great atmosphere, fun Opening Day.”