NEW YORK -- Brock Burke had never entered a game out of the bullpen with runners on base before Monday’s matchup with the Yankees. A starter coming up through the Rangers’ farm system, the lefty had always entered with a clean inning even throughout his transition to the bullpen.
But in the Rangers’ 1-0 loss at Yankee Stadium, Burke came into the game in an unfortunate situation after starter Jon Gray was removed with left knee soreness in the bottom of the fifth inning. Burke inherited a runner and immediately allowed a single to former Ranger Jose Trevino and walked DJ LeMahieu to load the bases.
He didn’t waver though, as he struck out the heart of the Yankees’ lineup in Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo to end the threat, get out of the inning clean and preserve a 0-0 tie at the time.
“I thought it was great,” manager Chris Woodward said. “It was a bold strategy walking LeMahieu, to get to one of the best hitters in baseball in Judge, but credit to [Burke]… Obviously, they had their best guys up there, and we were able to get through them. He’s been doing that all year. He doesn't get rattled by the situation.
“In Yankee Stadium, Judge hitting with the bases loaded and one out, with a 3-2 count, and he executed a pitch and then did a really good job with Rizzo after. At that point I thought [the momentum] was kind of on our side. But at the end of the day, we were one [hit] short.”
Burke said it felt like slow motion as he entered the game, but once he walked LeMahieu, he knew he needed to buckle down and throw his best stuff through the rest of the order.
A typically calm, cool and collected guy on the mound, Burke admitted to maybe letting his emotions get the best of him for a second. But Woodward emphasized that Burke’s calm demeanor is what makes him stand out, calling him a “vampire” because he rarely feels the pressure of a situation.
“I've always been pretty calm,” Burke explained. “I try not to let things get to me too much out there. I try to slow things down and not let things pile up. I've always talked to hitters and they’re like, ‘The second you start showing emotions out there, that makes us want to hit you that much more.’ So if you're cold-blooded, like a vampire, obviously they get a little more scared. So I'm just going to use that in my favor.”
Burke finished with 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief against the Yankees, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out five of the 10 New York hitters he faced. It marked the longest scoreless relief appearance of his career, and his five strikeouts also tied a career high.
Burke was a former Top 10 Rangers prospect coming through the farm system and was expected to be a starter when he got to the big leagues. He even made six starts in his debut season in 2019, but shoulder surgery heading into 2020 changed his career trajectory.
He returned to the Minors in 2021, posting a 5.68 ERA over 21 games (20 starts). Burke then came into big league camp this season pushing to make the Major League team, whether as a starter or reliever.
There were 932 days between his last appearance in 2019 and his first appearance in 2022, but when he returned to the big league stage, Burke became a high-end reliever that Woodward hasn’t hesitated to turn to in difficult situations. His 1.62 ERA is the second best among Rangers relievers, trailing only Matt Moore (0.71 ERA).
Burke has been part of an emerging Rangers bullpen, and he has been phenomenal in every appearance except when he gave up two runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Angels on April 17. Entering Monday’s matchup with the Yankees, Burke ranked among the American League relief leaders in strikeouts (third, 21), wins (tied for third, 3) and innings pitched (tied for 10th, 14).
“To have this start definitely helps,” Burke said. “It kind of settles my mind a little bit for the rest of the year. So I’m just going to keep trying to do what I've been doing.”