Corbin Burnes didn’t have a ton of time to think.
Right before his game last Saturday for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox — the Triple-A baseball team and top minor league affiliate for the Milwaukee Brewers — he was pulled aside by manager Rick Sweet with a simple message: Pack your bags. You’re going to the majors.
The Brewers called and needed help out of the bullpen. They were sending down Aaron Wilkerson — who started that day against the Atlanta Braves — and calling up Burnes, the Bakersfield native and Centennial High graduate who's one of the organization’s top pitching prospects.
Burnes arrived in Milwaukee just before Sunday’s series finale against Atlanta. He ate food quickly in the clubhouse and was ushered to the bullpen. He could be called upon if the appropriate situation arose.
Two days later it did, when Burnes made his MLB debut in an 8-4 win over the Miami Marlins. He shined, pitching two scoreless innings to record his first career big league save.
Not bad for a guy recently moved to a relief role in Colorado Springs after starting 45 of his previous 51 professional games.
With that in mind, the Brewers' personnel decision could have very well been made for this moment — get Burnes experience coming out of the bullpen, and then move one of their top young arms to the big leagues with the team in the thick of the National League playoff race.
“I adjust fine, it was a pretty easy transition for me,” Burnes wrote to The Californian in a text message following Tuesday’s game. “I was just excited to be considered for the big league team.”
Burnes is familiar with many of his Brewers teammates from 2018 spring training, he wrote. Still, he tries to keep a low profile and get results when his number’s called.
“I’m the kind of guy that tries to keep to myself in the clubhouse,” Burnes wrote.
That approach worked well in his big league debut, when Burnes entered in the bottom of the eighth inning with the Brewers ahead 6-4. The 23-year-old right-hander worked two scoreless innings — without surrendering a hit or walk, while striking out one — for the save.
“It’s a dream to pitch in the big leagues,” Burnes wrote. “To have my first opportunity come with great results was very exciting.”
Even on such a stage, it’s important for a player to stick to their game and not put undue pressure on themself. Burnes was one of the Brewers’ top pitching prospects entering the season and is in his current position for a reason — with first place Milwaukee in the midst of a National League Central championship race and possible NL pennant push.
“You just have to relax and play as if it was any other game,” Burnes wrote. “Staying true to yourself is definitely an important factor.”
Watching Burnes make his MLB debut in Miami were his parents Rick and Kandi; girlfriend Brooke; Eric Valenzuela, who coached Burnes at St. Mary’s College; and agent Mark O’Brien.
“When it really hit me was when he came running out of the bullpen and stepped up on the mound,” Rick Burnes said. “The catcher that night was (Erik) Kratz — a 38-year-old, veteran. You could see him put his hand on Corbin’s chest and Corbin take a big breath. For me, it was like, ‘Wow. This is really happening.'”
“I asked Corbin afterwards, ‘What did Kratz say to you when you got in from the bullpen?’ And he said, ‘Welcome to the big leagues kid.’ Pretty unreal.”