Players in Orioles camp excited to have Burnes on the club

SARASOTA, Fla. – Orioles infielder Jordan Westburg was sitting on his couch with wife Anna Claire when she suddenly went from spouse to source.

“I didn’t have my phone on me,” Westburg said this morning. “We were watching a movie and she’s like, ‘Hey, who is Corbin Burnes?’ It was just a random question for her to ask. I was like, ‘Why do you ask?’ And she shows me her phone and there’s the Oriole Bird logo and ESPN notification.”

That was the precise moment when Westburg found out that the Orioles acquired Burnes, the No. 1 starter they sought throughout the winter, from the Brewers for pitcher DL Hall and infielder Joey Ortiz.

“I was fired up about it. It was exciting,” Westburg said.

“I’m trying to think of what my initial reaction was. I think it was just pure excitement for the organization really. I think a lot of people on the outside have been wanting that ace and we went and got him. Just really exciting.

“Hate to see Joey and DL go – especially Joey because that’s my guy – but they’re also in maybe a more advantageous situation for themselves. And for us to give up those guys and get Corbin Burnes for a year is pretty cool.”

The emotions among players were held together by a common thread.

Burnes was a big deal, a bold grab, and they offered their full approval.

“It’s an exciting move,” said center fielder Cedric Mullins. “It definitely brings the thought of, now we’re taking that next step to really push deeper into the season, the playoffs, things like that. I know Corbin’s been doing his thing for a long time, so I know he’s not feeling any kind of pressure coming into a situation like this.”

“It’s awesome,” said infielder Gunnar Henderson, the 2023 American League Rookie of the Year. “Really looking forward to seeing him out there and playing behind him, because he’s an unreal pitcher. We had to face him last year and his stuff is really nasty. Looking forward to being able to see that for our team.

“He’s obviously an ace starter, won a Cy Young, so that’s what you want, and hopefully a Game 1 start in the postseason. I’m really looking forward to that.”

“Obviously for the team, it’s a lot of excitement,” said Tyler Wells, whose chances of being in the rotation improved with today’s news that Kyle Bradish is headed to the injured list and John Means is likely to join him. “It’s an opportunity to learn from a guy who’s had a Cy Young and been in the running multiple times. It’s definitely just a good opportunity to learn a little bit about how he approaches the game. That, to me, is the part I’m most excited for.

“I think someone like him, each year he provides a lot of innings, but on top of all that too, he’s extremely competitive, and all those innings that he goes out and accumulates are competitive. I think it just really ups our level compared to last year.”

“When I saw it initially, I thought it was a good opportunity for the guys that we had here, and my teammates and friends that are going to go and play for the Brewers,” said outfielder Ryan McKenna. “Obviously, Corbin’s a really good starter and we’re excited to have him. I think it’s a big piece that we were looking to go after. I was happy to see that we executed, and I’ve only heard good things about him.

“I was kind of happy on both ends, for the guy I played with and somebody that we’re getting.”

“We’re pretty happy about it,” Dean Kremer said with a grin, amused by the understatement. “He’s pretty good. He’s got a track record of being pretty good, so excited to learn from another guy. We’ve been fortunate the last couple years to have some good veterans, and he’s no exception.”

First baseman Ryan O’Hearn had one immediate thought when he learned of the trade.

“Glad I don’t have to face him. He’s gotten me out a lot,” O’Hearn said.

“It’s huge for us. Just to have a bonafide guy like that, an ace, somebody that you can count on to go deep in the game every five days. And I heard nothing but awesome things about him. Excited to get to know him a little bit. And yeah, happy he’s on our team.”

Craig Kimbrel is the biggest Orioles signing of the offseason, his contract finalized at the Winter Meetings for a guaranteed $13 million. Burnes became the most impactful addition.

“When you have a team bring in an ace, you’re just tacking on wins and more opportunities to win,”, Kimbrel said. “It’s always a positive. He’s one of the best in the game. He’s been doing it for a while and he’s going to continue to do it.”

Burnes appreciates all the love that he's receiving. He wants to blend but will take the verbal bouquets.

"It's awesome," he said. "When everyone has that same goal of getting to the end of the year and getting to the World Series and win the World Series, it makes it a lot easier for everyone to get along in the clubhouse. When you've got guys pulling in different directions, not knowing what the direction is of the team, it makes it a little bit tougher. But having won 101 games last year and getting into the postseason, everyone's got the same goals this year. It's easy to come in and be a part of that group. Ultimately, we all want to win. We all want to win the World Series, and Day One of that started yesterday with physicals and getting here and everyone getting on the same page."

Team executives appeared to be making a statement. Winning the division with the best record in the American League was a huge step, but it fell short of the ultimate goal.

“No doubt,” O’Hearn said. “I think it just shows the commitment to making the team better than it was last year. We had a pretty good team last year, obviously, but love that the front office is trying to make it better and go further.”

“Just shows that we’re ready to compete,” Kremer said. “I think we’ve already proved that, but just kind of bolstering that.”

“I think that last year was kind of setting the bar for this year,” Westburg said. “We can do this year after year after year with the talent we have in the clubhouse right now, and that move is probably like, we’re going to go for it. We’re not going to stay complacent.

“I don’t ever want to speak to the motivations of the organization, but I think everybody in here wants to win and we want to win now, so any move, trade, acquisition that can help us, I imagine the organization will go for it because we’re trying to win another 100 games and we’re trying to win the East, we’re trying to win the pennant and hopefully the World Series. So, any help we can get, I’m sure we’re going to go for it.”

Burnes spent the last few days getting acclimated to his new teammates and surroundings.

“I’ve been telling people, ‘Sorry, it’s going to take me a couple weeks to get to know everyone and remember faces, remember names,’” Burnes said.

“Definitely an exciting time. Good division to be in. Obviously, good baseball. So, looking forward to being part of the team.”

He won’t become consumed with having to step up further to compensate for Bradish and Means. To prove again that he’s the ace.

“Not at all,” he said. “I get that question every year even being in Milwaukee. It’s one of those things that I’m going to go out, I’m going to do my job. I can only pitch for one person on the team, so I’m going to go out there and prepare and do what I do and go out there every five days and give it all I’ve got.

“You know the guys behind me in the bullpen, behind me in the rotation, are going to do the same thing, so if everyone is fully focused on doing their job and competing at their role the best they can, that’s when good things happen.”

The free agent market hasn’t emptied, with some of the most prominent names still on it including starters Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger and third baseman Matt Chapman. The Orioles didn’t trade for their ace until two weeks before pitchers and catchers reported to camp, and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias keeps working the phones in case another opportunity arises.

“That’s just kind of how offseasons go,” Mullins said. “You kind of look at how this one specifically is going. Still a lot of free agents out there, as well. It was kind of a slow-played offseason. You have the Winter Meetings, nothing was really going on in the league. Kind of had an idea moves would be made late. Just a matter of being patient in that aspect.”

The rotation projections blew up with Bradish having a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and Means being a month behind the other starters following his October elbow soreness. Depth exists but is tested.

“I feel like we’ve always dealt with injuries and things really well, and this is just going to be another one of those,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “This allows us to give other guys some opportunities and we do feel confident and comfortable with the guys we have in camp that are rotation candidates, so we’ll just see how it goes this spring.”

"Talking to Hyder and Frenchy (pitching coach Drew French), some of these guys who obviously know the organization, know the guys in it a lot better than I do, they're excited for this group," Burnes said. "They've got seven or eight guys lined up that can be a big league starter and can go out and compete this year, so depth is always good, bullpen depth is always good. It seems like we have a lot of that here.

"Hyde mentioned it this morning. You've got 13 guys who are going to start Opening Day and that's not going to be the 13 pitchers who are going to pitch all year."

Grayson Rodriguez started Game 2 of the Division Series and could be No. 2 starter behind Burnes at the beginning of the regular season.

“There’s a lot of depth to this club and this organization, something that’s really helped us over the last few years, being able to develop pitchers,” Rodriguez said. “Homegrown talent in the minor leagues. I think we’re definitely going to have a lot of guys fill some roles in the rotation.”

Kremer was set to report as the favorite for a spot at the back end but seems to move up with Bradish and Means subtracted. He was ready to fight for a job no matter the circumstances.

“I like having that mentality regardless, just because it helps myself stay competitive,” he said. “I come with some sort of competitiveness.”

Rodriguez said he’s focused only on getting ready for the season and not any pressure with two key cogs lost in the rotation. To put himself in the best position to grab the ball and pitch in October.

Burnes is here to improve those odds.

“Obviously, that’s a big name,” Rodriguez said. “A special pitcher. I think it’s really exciting for Orioles fans, it’s exciting for some of the guys in our clubhouse, to be able to watch somebody like that every fifth day. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.”

“I saw him get to the big leagues in Milwaukee and you saw the stuff right away,” Hyde said. “What he’s done these last five or six years is incredibly impressive. Our guys saw him firsthand in Milwaukee last season and didn’t really enjoy their at-bats against him, so I feel great about having him here.

“Somebody with his kind of stuff and what he can do for you in the rotation, it’s going to be really helpful. Pitches like he did the last three or four years, we’ll be in good shape.”

* Plenty of position players arrived early, including Westburg, Mullins, Henderson, O’Hearn, McKenna, Ramón Urías, Tyler Nevin, Coby Mayo, Colton Cowser, Jackson Holliday, Kyle Stowers, Austin Hays, Sam Hilliard and Connor Norby.

* Henderson will need a few more weeks to recover from his oblique soreness and be full-go.

“I’m not concerned at all about Gunnar,” Hyde said.

* Hyde said Mayo probably will play third base and first base in camp to let him get comfortable. Mayo has been preparing to get reps in right field.

“We think he’s still got a chance to play third base in the big leagues, so want to give him every opportunity, get him with our major league infield guys. He’s going to play a lot there this spring.”

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