Burnes on starting spring opener, live batting practice details, plans for Kjerstad

SARASOTA, Fla. – The honor of pitching the first exhibition game doesn’t really resonate with Corbin Burnes, owner of a Cy Young Award and two Opening Day assignments. He's fried bigger fish.

Stepping on the mound Saturday afternoon at Ed Smith Stadium is more about preparation and bonding as the Orioles’ new staff ace.

“It’s exciting to get games going,” he said this afternoon following the latest workout, “and getting the first one gives me a chance to get an extra outing this camp just to get to know these guys and better prepare for the season.”

Burnes wasn’t the Brewers’ first starter last spring but he pitched on that day. It sort of counts, but not entirely.

“It was just like an extended live BP on a back field,” he said.

“This year, for me it made more sense to get into a game and get game action in, just get to know the catchers a little bit more. It’s the same amount of throwing I’ve done this year. It’s just in a game.”

Camp is only a week old and Burnes is still adapting to new surroundings and teammates. But he’s already picked up on the club's chemistry.

“It’s a close-knit group,” he said. “Obviously, a pretty young group, as well. But they’re all here, they’re all having the same thoughts. Want to come in and win a World Series. There’s really no other way to say it than you come in and you’re trying to win games, and everyone’s preparing the best they can to be ready for Opening Day, to go out and win as many baseball games as they can.”

Burnes assumes that Adley Rutschman will catch him but hasn’t been told the lineup. The game airs on MASN, giving fans their first glimpse of Burnes in an Orioles uniform.

The opener also gives Burnes a chance to become more familiar with the guy setting the target.

“The most important relationships are with the catching staff,” he said. “Next is with just the pitching group in general, whether it’s the starters, relievers, the coaches, analytics group. Just to get on the same page with all those guys as far as game planning goes, because how I gameplan and pitch game one affects who throws game two and game three, just how we attack hitters.

“You’ve just got to have that relationship with those guys so that you can kind of convey to them what you’re going out there to help them better prepare for their start, as well.”

Burnes and Rutschman have teamed up for a couple of bullpen sessions this spring, including earlier today on the six-pack mounds. They huddled afterward with new pitching coach Drew French.

“Just getting comfortable with each other – setups with how he receives, how my pitches look for him for how he receives,” Burnes said. “It’s just one of those things that takes some time, takes getting to know each other. I think we’re in a good spot as far as setups and that kind of stuff goes, so now it’s just about getting into game action and kind of getting on the same page with game calling.”

Reliever Yennier Cano brought his nasty stuff into today’s live batting practice on the main field, beginning with Heston Kjerstad’s at-bat that concluded with a nubber in front of the plate. Jackson Holliday also struggled to get the barrel on the ball before grounding to the right side.

Albert Suárez retired Austin Hays on a fly ball and Jorge Mateo and Jordan Westburg on ground balls to the left side. He came back out for another inning and was greeted by Hays’ first-pitch line drive to left-center field that likely would have resulted in a double. Mateo followed with a soft liner into shallow right field for a “single.”

Suárez struck out Westburg and Cedric Mullins swinging. Kjerstad sent a sharp bouncer up the middle and Holliday flied to left field.

Hays ambushed left-hander Cionel Pérez with a first-pitch fly ball that cleared the right field fence. A teammate in the dugout yelled, “Thank you for coming, baseball!”

Pérez coaxed a ground ball from Mateo, struck out Mullins and got Kjerstad on a bouncer.

Hyde said earlier in the day that Kjerstad will play a lot in the outfield corners. He probably won’t be used at first base this spring.

“Defense is important to us,” Hyde said. “We put a premium in playing the defense we’ve played the last couple years. That’s why we’ve won a lot of games. Heston just doesn’t have the major league experience, really, in the corner outfield, so we’re going to give him all the experience we can out there and let him get a lot of at-bats.”

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