Burnes gets the ball as the 2024 baseball season begins in Baltimore

With all due respect to recent O’s Opening Day starting pitchers like Andrew Cashner and Tommy Milone and even Kyle Gibson from last year, this year’s starter has a resume that most O’s starters in recent years can’t touch.

Right-hander Corbin Burnes was 10-8 with a 3.39 ERA last season for Milwaukee. He won the 2021 National League Cy Young Award. Today he becomes the first previous Cy Young winner to start an opener for the Orioles since Pat Hentgen in 2001. He was AL Cy Young winner with Toronto in 1996.

Burnes said this week, which is probably pretty obvious – a regular season start is very different from one in March.

“How I prepare for a big league start, has already started, been going for a couple of days now,” he said Tuesday in the Baltimore clubhouse. “A spring training start, you kind of see the lineup about an hour before the game and you just go out and pitch it. So, now that we know who we are going to see, we can game plan a little bit. The focus isn’t on anything about how you are doing mechanically or how the ball feels, it’s going out and getting as many outs as you can that day. The mentality is definitely different.”

Burnes is pleased with a spring training that he felt checked all the boxes – from getting his various pitches ready, to building up his pitch count, to getting to know his new teammates.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said of a productive spring. “The last two outings, everything kind of came into place. The relationship that I started and was growing with Adley (Rutschman), felt like it got to the point where he can call pitches and, in my mind, I am saying hopefully he calls this pitch, and he does it. That is the feeling you want. We’re on the same page and seeing the same things. That is the feeling you want on the mound, the trust in your catcher. As far as pitching goes, we’re in a good spot.”

You can make a case that Burnes has been the best pitcher in the majors since 2020, going 37-22 with 2.86 ERA (146 ERA+) over 622 1/3 innings with a 0.996 WHIP.

He ended last year pitching very, very well. Over his last 14 starts, beginning July 14, he had a 2.71 ERA with an 0.98 WHIP. In that span he allowed just a .187 batting average and .553 OPS against with a 47.2 groundball rate.

So yeah, nice resume.

Burnes has been happy to answer questions from the other O's pitchers in the rotation. He said he was asked a few times about throwing 200 innings, something he did two years and just missed a season ago.

How can the pitchers do that?

“Stay healthy,” he said. And yeah, that’s a start. To making many starts which he hopes to do for his new team.

He is not expected to catch Burnes today, but the O’s backup at catcher James McCann has caught several previous Cy Young winners to include Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom.

He said that even with all his success, talent and experience, there are things Burnes will lean on his new catchers for this year. That starts today.

“For a guy like him, he obviously has a track record and knows what he is doing,” said McCann. “But he hasn’t pitched in the AL East and hasn’t actually pitched in the American League. Yes, he saw some hitters in interleague. But he doesn’t have the same insight that we have and so it’s our job to help him with that. And also, our job to understand what makes him go and help him do that. Whether you are a veteran of 10 years in the majors or it’s Day One, there is always a way a catcher can help his pitcher. Whether he is a rookie or a veteran.”

McCann said it’s clear that Burnes quickly bought into being an Oriole and fits in well in the clubhouse. He said that is the norm in Birdland for the players.

“I think that is one of the greatest things about this clubhouse right now. We are so tightly knit, and we get along so well and we are pulling in the same direction, that if you are not, you stick out like a sore thumb. You look around this room and it’s a bunch of different guys. But when we step in this locker room it truly is a bunch of guys who put the name on the front of this jersey before the one on the back,” said McCann.

Radio show is back: I am back hosting the WBAL O’s postgame radio show again this season. We will be on after most, but not all games, starting today about 30 minutes after the final pitch of the game. Tune in and call in on WBAL Radio, FM 101.5 and/or the WBAL Radio app.

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