Orioles hope Burnes effect helps rest of rotation reach new heights

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Grayson Rodriguez welcomed the “friendly competition” in revealing Corbin Burnes had talked “some smack” to him after the new Orioles ace’s superb Opening Day performance. 

Tyler Wells watched both Burnes and Rodriguez dominate the Los Angeles Angels over the first two games and thought to himself, “Oh man, that’s pretty good.” 

Despite the Orioles bats cooling considerably and not being able to overcome a rocky first couple innings from Wells in Sunday’s 4-1 loss, the most encouraging aspect of the season-opening series was the starting pitching. What the organization envisions as the Burnes effect goes beyond what the 29-year-old will do on the mound every fifth day and was on display as Baltimore starters combined to allow five earned runs and 10 hits while striking out a whopping 27 batters and walking one over 18 innings. 

Raising the bar. 

“For them to see that, what that looks like, what that top-of-the-rotation-type guy looks like, and how he was able — once he gets to two strikes — to get guys to chase, get ahead with two strikes and get guys to chase, that was great for our young pitchers to see,” said manager Brandon Hyde about Burnes. “And that’s going to be helpful over the course of the whole year.”

We’ll see what the rest of the rotation looks like as Dean Kremer and Cole Irvin complete the opening turn against Kansas City and John Means and Kyle Bradish continue to work their way back from injuries, but the swing-and-miss ability was evident with Burnes and Rodriguez as well as Wells, who registered 16 swinging strikes and retired the final 14 batters he faced to salvage a quality start out of Sunday’s effort. 

The three starters combined to register an elite called strike plus whiff rate of 38%, reflecting how good their stuff was over the opening series. Of course, it could also be an indication of how bad the Angel are as they already held a team meeting after two blowout losses to begin the 2024 campaign. Ouch. 


What we watched Thursday is what Burnes does on a regular basis and why general manager Mike Elias sent DL Hall and Joey Ortiz to Milwaukee to acquire Baltimore’s first bona fide ace since Hall of Fame pitcher Mike Mussina. But watching the 24-year-old Rodriguez nearly duplicate such dominance was an understated factor in acquiring a No. 1 starter with such pedigree, especially if Burnes is willing to challenge teammates to seek his level.  

“I like that. That’s going to help me tremendously,” said Rodriguez, who matched a career high with nine strikeouts on Saturday. “This rotation, I think we’re going to be very competitive with each other. We’re going to hold each other to high standards.”

The Orioles not only acquired a legitimate ace for 2024, but they hope Burnes can help Rodriguez realize his own top-of-the-rotation potential that’s been touted since he was in Low-A ball five years ago. Elevating the status of a couple others along the way would be even better for an organization that isn’t as rich with pitching prospects as on the positional talent side. 

The second half of 2023 — which featured a 2.26 ERA over his final 12 starts — showed us what Rodriguez is capable of doing in the majors, but his pitch efficiency stood out Saturday as he completed six innings for the eighth time in his last 12 regular-season starts and needed only 84 pitches to do it. His changeup was particularly devastating, fetching nine swinging strikes out of the 23 times he threw it. Just ask former Orioles teammate Aaron Hicks, who swung and missed at Rodriguez’s best pitch five times over the course of a three-strikeout night against him. 

And after some questionable pitch selection and difficulties early in Sunday’s loss, Wells regrouped to look the part of an opening series starter. 

Even after the sleepy offensive effort in Sunday’s finale, we know the Orioles are going to produce at the plate after finishing seventh in the majors in runs scored last year. A pair of MVP candidates in Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman have another year of experience under their belt, and there’s even more offensive upside waiting for an opportunity at Triple-A Norfolk.  


But given the 2024 loss of All-Star closer Felix Bautista as well as the absence of Bradish and Means for at least the start of the season, pitching is the Orioles’ question mark entering 2024. Burnes clearly presents a major upgrade, but the rest of the rotation has to do its job and not put too much strain on a bullpen that figures to have a tough time duplicating the 30-16 mark in one-run games from a year ago. In the opening series, the offensive output over the first two games combined with the quality starting pitching left the bullpen untested to any meaningful degree. 

Burnes will set the tone, and it’s up to the rest of the staff to follow his lead. 

So far, so good. 

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