'It's ultimately to win it all': Can Corbin Burnes lead the Orioles where they haven't been in 41 years?



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SARASOTA, Florida — Corbin Burnes had just allowed four runs — including two home runs — in the second inning of a spring training start, but the smile on the new Baltimore Orioles ace’s face told a different story.

Despite the rocky outing against the Boston Red Sox, Burnes was focused on the positive: He had just taken a major step forward with his new batterymate, All-Star catcher Adley Rutschman.

“The first two weeks of anything new is kind of crazy and a whirlwind,” Burnes told ESPN after his outing. “This is kind of a critical day to build and take that relationship to the next level. Starting in that third inning, everything clicked to where it wanted to be.”

After coming over in a blockbuster trade with the Milwaukee Brewers in February, Burnes’ first month with the Orioles has been a gradual acclimation. Being able to get his pitch sequencing down with the player who will be receiving his pitches all season was important to him, and midway through the start, Burnes said, he saw a look on Rutschman’s face that meant, “Yeah, I get it now.”

“We’ve talked and talked and talked about a lot of things and had a lot of conversations,” Rutschman said. “To apply it in real time was cool.”

While Burnes quickly familiarizes himself with a new group of teammates in preparation for the season ahead, there is also a different vibe around the Orioles this spring. Fresh off a 101-win season and its first AL East title since 2014, Baltimore is now expected to win — and Burnes is being counted on as a player who could put a franchise that hasn’t won a World Series in 41 years over the top.

“Everyone knows the goal, so we were really happy when the front office did that,” Rutschman said. “He’s elite in the way he goes about his business. It’s elite stuff and an elite person.”


IT WAS NO secret the Orioles needed help on the mound after their breakthrough season ended with a three-game sweep against the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series. Baltimore’s starters had the 11th-best ERA in the majors during the regular season, but the bottom fell out during the postseason when the staff posted a 7.27 ERA.

Unlike in previous offseasons, when the Orioles have been content with mid-tier veteran additions, general manager Mike Elias made it clear that he was looking to add an ace — he inquired about Burnes’ availability at the GM meetings and then again at the winter meetings.

Set to enter his final season before free agency, the former Cy Young winner had posted a 3.39 ERA in 32 starts for the Brewers in 2023. Burnes was exactly the kind of difference-maker Elias envisioned at the top of his rotation, the question was if he — or any other impact starting pitcher — would be available.

“My biggest concern was I wasn’t sure if these types of guys were going to get traded,” Elias said. “It might be a year where no one moved a frontline starter.”

Even after Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow and Red Sox lefty Chris Sale were made available, there was a hitch for the Orioles: Baltimore had little chance of acquiring either from an AL East rival.

That left Elias to hone in on a trio of potentially available pitchers: Cleveland’s Shane Bieber (whom the Guardians ultimately decided to keep), Chicago’s Dylan Cease and Burnes. Milwaukee was first to blink, deciding that it needed to move Burnes now rather than risk watching him leave via free agency after the season. Baltimore seized the opportunity and took advantage of a loaded farm system, parting with prospects Joey Ortiz and DL Hall to land Burnes on Feb. 1.

“We were uniquely positioned to be the high bidders on him,” Elias said. “We were probably the most motivated. We had a need and a farm system to deal from.”

The move, which coincided with the announcement of a change in team ownership, made the Orioles the talk of the town in the middle of the winter. Burnes isn’t just another starting pitcher — he is an ace. For a team with an unparalleled young core already in or en route to the big leagues, this was a move that everyone from fans to those in the Orioles clubhouse believed could put the team over the top.

“Bringing in a guy that’s a Cy Young, top of the rotation guy is something we haven’t had here in a while,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “When I got the call that we acquired him, that was super exciting. Then, when it was announced, I got a lot of text messages from our players, just how excited those guys were. Having someone that accomplished to be on our staff was a big deal.”

The players were plenty familiar with what their new teammate would bring to the rotation — Burnes had thrown eight innings of shutout ball with nine strikeouts against them in June.

“It was so cool to see us get him — plus I don’t have to bat against him so all the better,” shortstop Gunnar Henderson said. “I’ll tell you his cutter is sharp and it moves a lot. It’s not an easy AB.”


THE TIMING OF the trade left Burnes with just a couple of weeks to get to spring training with his new team while also learning to embrace a new role in the clubhouse.

“It was a surprise,” Burnes said. “It really was. Previous offseasons [Brewers GM Matt] Arnold had been very good at keeping me in the loop on things. This offseason there was nothing. It kind of had a different feel throughout the entire winter. My mind was on going back to the Brewers. I wasn’t oblivious but also that zero communication seemed funny.”

Selected by the Brewers in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, Burnes was part of a Milwaukee core that came into the majors around the same time — beginning with a 2018 run to the National League Championship Series during his rookie year.

But at Orioles camp, Burnes is a veteran presence on a youthful roster, making him someone younger players are often coming to for advice.

“He’s one of those guys that leads by action,” said Tyler Wells, who made his debut in 2021 and was a member of Baltimore’s starting rotation the past two seasons. “When you see him out there, he’s competitive and aggressive. For us, as a younger rotation, when we look at that mindset, it shows how successful that can be.”

There is one thing that Burnes has been able to do throughout his career that Baltimore’s young pitchers are particularly interested in learning how to emulate when they approach him.

“I’m not a huge social talker guy like these young guys are in this clubhouse … the young guys haven’t been shy. They’ve come up and asked questions,” Burnes said. “A lot of guys want to know how to throw 200 innings in a year.”

Burnes missed that mark by just seven innings last season but threw 202 innings in 2022. He’s also struck out a whopping 677 batters the past three seasons, second only to Gerrit Cole. He’s a true workhorse in an era of few of them.

“He does something in today’s game which is rare, which is throw 200 innings but with huge stuff,” Elias said. “It’s hard to find guys that are physically capable of that.”

It’s not only younger players who are turning to Burnes for advice. Though it’s a new league, division and city, Elias sees similarities between where Burnes used to play and where he does now.

“He comes from an organization that we emulate as a smallish market team that represents a whole state but that has a major city [Washington D.C/Chicago] down the street but has found a lot of success,” Elias explained. “I’ve been picking his brain on clubhouse or family stuff that the Brewers do.”

It’s a lot for the 29-year-old to digest. He’s expected to be the ace of a team with high expectations during his free agent season. Still, Burnes has one goal in mind.

“I’ve done it all. All-Star, Cy Young, been to the postseason. The only thing I haven’t done is play in a World Series and win a World Series. From here to the rest of my career, it’s ultimately to win it all.”



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