PHOENIX (AP) — Somewhere in the second inning on Monday, Corbin Burnes found his cutter that he’d been looking for throughout spring training.
Bad news for National League batters if that’s true.
Burnes allowed just one hit in five innings in tuning up for a possible opening day start for Milwaukee. Facing the San Francisco Giants at the Brewers’ complex, the NL Cy Young Award winner struck out eight and walked one.
The only hit came from the first Giants batter, LaMonte Wade Jr., who doubled and eventually scored on an infield out.
“I threw one (cutter) and it’s like, yeah that’s it. And that translated to every other pitch as well,” Burnes said.
For the most part, Burnes looked like the pitcher who excelled for the NL Central champion Brewers.
The 27-year-old right-hander was 11-5 with a league-best 2.43 ERA. He struck out 234 in 167 innings while walking just 34, and his percentage totals of strikeouts per nine innings (12.6) and fewest homers per nine (0.4) also led all NL qualifiers.
“As the game went on, he got better,” manager Craig Counsell said. He agreed that the second inning was the turnaround in the outing.
Burnes fanned Curt Casali to end the first, struck out the side in the second and faced the minimum over the next four innings. The only baserunner in that period was Thairo Estrada, who was hit by a pitch (“one bad curveball,” Burnes later said) and he was erased on an attempted steal by catcher Omar Narváez.
“The consistency was there today. Last time out the stuff was there. Today it was more about trying to find consistency and (go five). The first (inning) was a little shaky. We kind of figured some things out. We cruised from there,” Burnes said.
“Everything felt good from the second inning on. I was trying to find the cutter a little early. Hadn’t really found it all camp. And then in the second the light bulb kind of went off,” he said. “When we got the right feeling, I think Omar knew it too, because I threw about six or seven in a row. I felt like I could throw it anytime I wanted to. That’s the mindset, when I can get to that, I know that I’m ready.”
Burnes is the leader of a strong pitching staff that carried the Brewers to a division title. Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser, Freddy Peralta and Eric Lauer round out the five-man rotation.
“He means a lot to our team,” said Woodruff, himself a top five finisher in the Cy Young vote last year.
“When he pitches, he does some different things than a lot of guys, so you try to pick up on how the hitters are trying to attack him. So I can pick up on their game plan for what they might do the next time I pitch,” he said.
Burnes has one more start — Saturday night against the Seattle Mariners — before opening day. Manager Craig Counsell has not announced his starter for Milwaukee’s first game, April 7 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, but Burnes would be lined up on four days’ rest.
“We’ll hold off on that one,” Burnes said. “We’ll wait to see what happens.”
TOP PHOTO: FILE – Milwaukee Brewers starter Corbin Burnes, left, and reliever Josh Hader celebrate after pitching a combined no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians in a baseball game in Cleveland, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Phil Long)
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