PHOENIX – The worst-kept secret in Milwaukee Brewers camp has finally been revealed.
Corbin Burnes will be the team’s opening day starter April 7 at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs.
Manager Craig Counsell, who made the news official Tuesday morning before the Brewers’ Cactus League game against the Cleveland Guardians in Goodyear, was asked how he came to the decision.
“He won the Cy Young,” he said wryly.
Indeed, the right-hander did, after going 11-5 with a major-league-leading 2.43 earned run average, WHIP of 0.94 and 234 strikeouts in 167 innings over 28 starts.
Burnes also set a major-league record by opening the season with 59 consecutive strikeouts without a walk, tied a major-league record by striking out 10 consecutive batters (in a start against the Cubs) and combined with Josh Hader on the second no- hitter in franchise history.
More:Brewers ace Corbin Burnes aims to improve on Cy Young season in 2022
The start will be Burnes’ first on opening day. Brandon Woodruff had made the previous two.
“It’s cool news, to be making my first opening day start,” Burnes said. “But on a team like this, it could have been any of those five guys in the rotation to start the year. I think three of us will have an opening day start under our belt – obviously Woody’s had a couple, I think (Eric ) Lauer had one with San Diego and now I’ll have one.
“So, just being in the rotation with a bunch of guys that have done it before and a bunch of good pitchers, it’s pretty special.”
Woodruff, who started for the Brewers in the exhibition game Tuesday, did not get the chance to see Burnes in person to congratulate him.
“I’ll see him tomorrow and congratulate him. It’s fun,” Woodruff said of pitching the opener. “But once we get through that first one there’s a mission that we’re on as a team together, so we’re going to try to accomplish that goal. But Corbin is going to lead us off and rightfully so; I mean, he’s the reigning Cy Young winner.”
It’s yet another reminder of just how far he’s come since his nightmarish 2019, when Burnes bounced between the majors and minors several times and finished 1-5 with an 8.82 ERA and WHIP of 1.84.
Burnes remade himself mentally in that offseason with a sports psychologist and also revamped his pitching approach, turning away from relying on a four-seam fastball and slider to a devastating cutter he threw 52.3% of the time in 2021.
“There’s great pitchers that have done this,” Counsell said, speaking on Burnes revitalizing his career. “Roy Halladay comes to mind as someone who took a similar path.
“The nature of how competitors and great athletes keep going and keep finding a way to not be knocked down — I think as much as anything it’s not on the physical side where Corbin made all these improvements. It’s the rest of the game where he’s controlled everything so well and become so good at that’s allowed him to have the success.”
Burnes is the 33rd pitcher to start an opening day for the Brewers.
In the past, pitchers who have made multiple opening day starts have mentioned how important it is to be able to focus on the task at hand and not become distracted by the pomp and circumstance that comes with that appearance.
That shouldn’t be an issue for Burnes, whose focus on the mound has been well-established.
“At the end of the day it’s going to be one of 32, 33; you can’t make it something bigger than it is,” he said. “At the end of the day you’re still out there playing baseball, still trying to execute pitches.”
Burnes made his second Cactus League start Monday and picked up his first victory after going five innings and striking out eight against the San Francisco Giants.
He’ll make one more spring start, on Saturday night against the Seattle Mariners in Peoria.
Luis Perdomo a week away
When Milwaukee signed Luis Perdomo to a two-year, minor-league deal in December 2020, the hope was he’d spend 2021 rehabbing from the Tommy John surgery he underwent while with the San Diego Padres and then be in position to help the Brewers in 2022.
Now, with a week to go until the team breaks camp, the right-hander appears to be on the cusp of opening the season in the major leagues after putting together a strong spring.
Entering Tuesday, Perdomo had pitched 4⅔ economical innings over three appearances (one start) and allowed just one hit with a pair of strikeouts, putting himself in contention to be a member of what should be an expanded bullpen with teams allowed to carry two extra players for the first month of the season.
In a stint of two-thirds of an inning Tuesday against the Cleveland Guardians at Goodyear Ballpark, Perdomo allowed his first spring run on a wind-aided homer.
Perdomo, who was 20-31 with a 5.19 ERA in 133 appearances (61 starts) for the San Diego Padres dating to 2016, began his comeback in earnest by pitching seven innings in the Dominican Winter League before taking part in the Brewers’ early Build -Up Camp for minor-leaguers last month.
That allowed him to hit the ground running once major-league camp opened, and the non-roster invitee has impressed since.
Perdomo used a sinker-slider-splitter combo to induce ground balls at a rate of 60.4% in 2020 before being injured, and when he’s going well that’s how he’ll continue to have success.
“That’s definitely my game,” he said through translator Carlos Brizuela. “That’s what I’m trying to do. Just get a ground ball quick and get out of the inning quick.”
Perdomo, who turns 29 on May 9, admitted it’s been hard awaiting to learn his fate. But he shouldn’t have to wait much longer.
“Just getting ready to be ready,” he said. “It’s not my decision to make; it’s theirs. I’m just going to be ready whenever the team needs me. And that’s all I can do, is just be ready to compete and help the team win.
“It’s definitely a little hard (waiting). But, you’ve just got to stay calm. You’ve just got to control what you can, keep working and going out there and competing and just let them make the decision whenever they make the decision.”
The Brewers added to their pitching depth later Tuesday, signing right-hander José Ureña to a minor-league contract. Counsell said Ureña would be in major-league camp beginning Wednesday, however.
Urena, 30, went 4-8 with a 5.81 ERA and WHIP of 1.60 in 26 appearances (18 starts) for the Detroit Tigers last season. He also struck out 67 in 100⅔ innings.
In 168 major-league appearances since 2015 with the Miami Marlins and Tigers (116 starts), he’s 36-54 with a 4.77 ERA.
Guardians 10, Brewers 3
Brandon Woodruff was able to get through his penultimate start before the regular season feeling fresh, even if the results weren’t quite there.
The Brewers right-hander allowed six runs over 3⅔ innings, striking out five and walking one, in a loss at Goodyear Ballpark.
BOX SCORE:Guardians 10, Brewers 3
Woodruff allowed three homers: an inside-the-park home run to Amed Rosario in the third inning, a three-run blast to Austin Hedges in the fourth and a solo shot from José Ramírez in the fifth.
“I tried to come into this start and just have a little better process from pitch to pitch,” said Woodruff, who estimated he threw about 70 pitches.
“I think I did a pretty good job of that, but it’s like I would throw some good pitches early in counts and then two strikes just leave some stuff in the middle and when you get it in the air here, they go.
“So, the results were not what I wanted but coming out of it feeling good and feeling healthy.”