MILWAUKEE — If you'd told Corbin Burnes a year ago that he would go into the final week of the 2020 season, even he might have rolled his eyes in disbelief.
The right-hander was essentially a uniformed spectator during the Milwaukee Brewers' final-month push to the playoffs. Given a chance to start the season in the rotation after an impressive performance as a rookie in 2018, Burnes struggled early in 2019 and spent most of the season bouncing back-and-forth between Milwaukee and Class AAA San Antonio before ultimately returning to the team's spring training facility for a full-blown reboot.
He appeared in 32 games, going 1-5 with an 8.82 ERA and a 1.837 WHIP but after spending the entire offseason getting back on track, Burnes was ready to go when spring training opened and again when baseball returned from its COVID-19 hiatus. He started the regular season with strong performances out of the bullpen but has looked like an ace in the making since returning to the rotation, going 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA in six starts.
In 10 appearances this season, Burnes has a 1.98 ERA — good for third in the National League — and leads the NL with a .154 opponents' batting average, 13.32 strikeouts per nine innings and 4.68 hits per nine innings.
In addition, he's among the top 10 NL pitchers in WAR (2.3), WHIP (0.98) and strikeouts (74).
"He’s a young player who went through some struggles, had to make some adjustments and did," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "That’s a credit to him and his stick-to-it-iveness and his toughness that he was able to not only not let it beat him but really to motivate him to get better and to make the changes that were going to make him successful."
During that challenging 2019 season, Counsell was asked numerous times about Burnes' future and the answer never wavered: he would eventually be back in the rotation and stay there for years to come.
Getting that kind of support added to Burnes' motivation as he tried to rediscover the form that made him a top prospect in the Brewers' system.
"After the tough season I had last year, it’s very easy to move on to the next guy," Burnes said. "So it was good to hear that, not only last offseason but the offseason prior. The total belief is still there. That’s always good."
Burnes' numbers give him a legitimate chance at becoming the third pitcher in Brewers history to win a Cy Young Award. But Burnes insists he's not comparing his numbers to anybody else's, focusing instead on helping the Brewers clinch a postseason berth.
He'll get another chance Saturday, when the Brewers continue their series with the Kansas City Royals at Miller Park.
"We’ve got (11) games left and we’re a game out of second place," Burnes said. "The most important thing is to win as many baseball games as we can and hopefully sneak our way into the postseason, and go from there."
Bench coach Pat Murphy returned to the team Friday after spending the past few weeks at home in Arizona recovering from a minor heart attack he suffered during a workout at Miller Park in early August.
Murphy, 61, said he wasn't aware of how serious the situation was until he arrived at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, where doctors inserted a stent into a blocked artery.
"I probably still don't know the magnitude of what it could mean (in the future)," Murphy said. "I've just (chosen) to be grateful and to not worry about how close it was, live a little healthier."
Well-regarded for his clubhouse personality as well as his baseball acumen, Murphy said he followed every game on television or radio during his absence, and stayed in regular contact with the players and the coaching staff.
"They were great," Murphy said. "Everybody here ... they really make you feel like a family."
And like any family, there is often plenty of good-natured ribbing, which Murphy has been known to dish out regularly. Upon his return, he got right back into his groove by wearing a T-shirt that said "Three up, three down" into a pregame hitters' meeting.
"I said that I thought it was our new offensive philosophy, three up and three down," Murphy said. "That went over big. They said, "Murph's back.'"
Counsell hired Murphy, who was his coach at Notre Dame, ahead of his first full season as Brewers manager. For the time being, Murphy won't be in the dugout but Counsell expects that to happen at some point during the team's final road trip.
"We’re just going to ease him into his work days," Counsell said. "Which he’s not happy about."
Trade finalized with Phillies
The Brewers completed their deadline deal with the Phillies on Friday, landing a trio of young right-handed pitchers in exchange for veteran reliever David Phelps.
Those pitchers are 20-year-old Brandon Ramey and 19-year-olds Juan Geraldo and Israel Puello. None of the three is considered among the Phillies' top prospects. Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns had luck with a similar trade for a young, unheralded pitcher, having acquired right-hander Freddy Peralta, then only 19, from the Mariners in exchange for Adam Lind in December 2015.
Around the Horn
Right-hander Josh Lindblom will return from the bereavement list and start Sunday. Left-hander Brett Anderson was originally scheduled to start that game but will now pitch Monday when the team opens a three-game series in Cincinnati. ... Left-hander Eric Lauer was returned to the alternate training site in Appleton. He was recalled Wednesday to serve as the 29th player for Milwaukee's doubleheader against the Cardinals. ... Right-hander Jake Faria was released. Acquired last season from Tampa in exchange for first baseman Jesus Aguilar, Faria allowed 11 earned runs in 8⅔ innings for the Brewers in 2019. He spent the entire 2020 season at the alternate training site but was not on Milwaukee's 40-man roster.
While Burnes tries to continue his dominant stretch, Royals left-hander Kris Bubic (1-5, 4.50 ERA) will be looking to build momentum after earning his first big-league victory in his last start. Bubic held the Pirates to a run over six innings and struck out six in that contest. He began the season 0-5 with a 4.89 ERA.
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