Corbin Burnes, Brewers open three-game set vs. Marlins

MLB

Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Corbin Burnes is having fun.

That tends to happen when you need a microscope to find your ERA (it’s 0.37).

“I think it makes it sweeter this year having some fans in the stands,” Burnes said. “It’s nice having fans there to enjoy it with us.”

If Burnes pitches even close to how he has started this season, the fans will be cheering for him again on Monday night, when his Brewers play host to the Miami Marlins.

Milwaukee has won five of its past six games, including a 6-0 victory over the host Chicago Cubs on Sunday afternoon.

Miami has lost three of four games on its current road trip, including a 4-3 defeat to the San Francisco Giants on Sunday.

Burnes, a 26-year-old right-hander from Bakersfield, Calif., was Milwaukee’s fourth-round pick in 2016. He made his major league debut as a reliever in 2018, but he didn’t become a force as a starter until last year, when he went 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA in the COVID-shortened season.

This year, Burnes has amazing numbers even beyond his ERA. In 24.1 innings, he has 40 strikeouts and zero walks. Among starting pitchers, that’s a major league record for most strikeouts without a walk to begin a season. Including relievers, the MLB record is 51, set by Kenley Jansen in 2017.

Coincidentally, Burnes’ big issue before this season was his lack of command. He issued 3.6 walks per nine innings last year.

His strikeouts per nine innings have gone up in each of his four seasons — from 8.3 as a rookie to his current average of 14.8.

So how has this happened for Burnes?

Scouts say it’s his improved pitch selection. Burnes has long had a power arm with elite spin rate. But scouts said his efficiency improved when he eliminated his four-seam fastball. Instead, he has turned to a sinker and a cutter as his primary fastballs, and he often puts hitters away with a slider and a curve.

The good news for the Marlins, however, is that even though Burnes has begun this season with four straight quality starts, the Brewers are just 2-2 in those games.

Meanwhile, the Marlins, nearly halfway through a 10-game road trip, will counter Burnes with rookie lefty Trevor Rogers (2-1, 1.64 ERA).

It’s a small sample size, but Rogers has shown major improvement from last season, when he went 1-2 with a 6.11 ERA in seven starts.

In four starts this year, Rogers has 31 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 22 innings.

Rogers, Miami’s first-round pick and No. 13 overall in 2017, has yet to face the Brewers. (Burnes has never started against Miami, posting a 3.38 ERA in two relief outings.)

So far this season, Rogers has pitched a combined 13 scoreless innings in his two wins, but he has not gone past five innings in his two other appearances.

“(Rogers) benefitted from getting a few starts last year,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He learned lessons, went to work and made big strides.”

Aside from the pitching matchup, a key factor in Monday’s game could be injuries and team depth. Miami is already without three Opening Day starters: catcher Jorge Alfaro, third baseman Brian Anderson and center fielder Starling Marte.

Milwaukee has been without 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, a former Marlin, since April 11 due to a back injury. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain (strained quadriceps) is also out, meaning two-third of Milwaukee’s starting outfield is on the injured list.

–Field Level Media

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