Corbin Burnes was going to pound the strike zone even if the Brewers hadn’t scored seven first-inning runs for him Wednesday night against the Cubs. That’s what he does.
But the fact they did put up a seven-spot made it a lot easier for Burnes to challenge Chicago’s weak lineup. The product was eight scoreless innings and a piece of strike-throwing history.
The Brewers right-hander became just the third MLB pitcher ever to strike out 10 consecutive batters. He’s now on a list that was started by Mets Hall of Famer Tom Seaver in 1970 and joined by the Phillies’ Aaron Nola last June.
All 10 of his consecutive Ks were swinging. Burnes finished with a career-high 15 strikeouts and no walks.
“After we put up seven in the first it makes it really easy to go out there and just try to throw it over the plate,” Burnes said. “And even after scoring seven runs, (the Cubs) came out swinging the bat. That’s how we had a quick first (inning) there, so instead of kind of leaving it middle we said, ‘Hey, let’s just go back to our game plan, go to the edges, do what we do best,’ and it worked.”
It worked extremely well; Burnes needed just 99 pitches (74 strikes) to get through eight.
The 15:0 K:BB ratio is also something that Burnes just does. He set an MLB record in mid-May by recording 58 strikeouts before issuing his first walk of the season. (The Yankees’ Gerrit Cole later eclipsed him by tallying 61 Ks before his first walk.) And the ratio is still heavily tilted to the strikeout side. The numbers after Wednesday:
|K% minus BB%||31.7|
The K% and K%-minus-BB% rates are best among qualified National League pitchers. So is his 1.51 FIP. (That deGrom fellow in New York is way ahead of everyone in those categories, but he’s at 92 innings and holding.)
Curiously, Burnes is just 12th in the NL with a 66.9 strike percentage, but he is No. 1 at 27.5 percent of his strikes being swings and misses. Cubs batters were flailing at all four of his main pitches — fastball, cutter, curve and changeup — as they managed just four hits. Opponents are now batting .203 against him (.523 OPS).
“It was a guy in complete control executing everything,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “The swings were just, they weren’t good swings, which means there was good movement, the ball was located really well.
“It was fun to watch. It was a great pitcher at his best.”
Obviously, with eight shutout frames, Burnes kept the ball in the yard. He has allowed just five home runs this season despite being around the plate so often. The number is even more exceptional considering he allowed 17 long balls in just 49 innings in 2019. He served up just two gopher balls in 59 2/3 frames in 2020.
All of these numbers are a long way of saying that Burnes is one of baseball’s best pitchers this year. He makes up one part of the Brewers’ three-headed rotation monster with fellow starters Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta.
Burnes has been more to the point in his statement to the league. He has come right at hitters and they haven’t met the challenge.