It took five years to get back to the majors, and Andy Burns crammed an awful lot into his first game back.
Before Saturday, Burns last played in the major leagues in 2016 with the Blue Jays, going hitless in six at-bats. The journey from then to now took Burns around the globe, including two years with the Lotte Giants in the Korean Baseball Organization, where he hit 38 home runs and 72 doubles. After another year in Triple-A Buffalo, Burns played that offseason with Sydney in the Australian Baseball League.
On another minor league deal with Toronto in 2020, he spent the year at the alternate training site before signing with the Dodgers in December.
“I’ve always had confidence in myself. Obviously there’s times where it’s tougher than other times, and you question a little bit,” Burns said before Saturday’s game. “But it’s always been my focus to get back at the big league level and help a team win a championship.”
The Dodgers called Burns up after he hit .330/.427/.598 in 30 games with Oklahoma City, starting games at third base, second base, left field, and right field.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked that he can do,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s performed as well as anyone at Triple-A, and I’m just happy he got that opportunity.”
That opportunity for Burns included a start at second base against left-hander Kolby Allard on Saturday, Burns’ first major league start, at 30 years, 309 days old.
“Nothing in this game is ever given to you, and you’ve got to earn everything. Throughout the last five years, just putting in the work every single day and knowing that this is what you’re striving to do,” Burns said of his return to the majors. “To accomplish that is great, but there’s more on the table I want to accomplish as well.”
In Burns’ first at-bat on Saturday, he beat out a bouncer to shortstop for his first major league hit. Then he walked in the fourth, his first major league walk.
But as the game got away from the Dodgers, who allowed season highs in runs and hits in a blowout loss to Texas, things got even weirder.
When Nate Jones struggled in the eighth, then allowed a walk and a home run to his first two batters of the ninth, Roberts removed him after 30 pitches, not wanting to stretch him further. With the game already out of hand, down 10-1 at that point, Roberts didn’t turn to any of his six remaining relief pitchers.
While removing Jones, with the infielders and catcher Will Smith gathered around, Roberts sprung the news that Burns was going to pitch the final three outs.
“As I made the mound visit, there was a little comedic stuff just to kind of diffuse the moment and get him ready,” Roberts said. “I sort of ambushed him.”
Burns, a 2011 draftee, had never pitched professionally. Though his bio at the University of Kentucky mentions Burns pitching in high school before throwing an inning for the Duluth Huskies in the summer of 2009 in the Northwoods League. Roberts did not know if any pitching history for Burns, but did note, “I just figured he had a right arm and he can throw it over the plate.”
“I just asked him if he was ready to make history, and he said ‘Let’s do it,’” Roberts said.
Burns retired two of his first three batters faced, but then outfielder Jason Martin took him deep for his first major league home run, shades of Dodgers catcher David Ross doing the same against Mark Grace in 2002. After a single by Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Burns struck out pitcher Josh Sborz looking.
As a hitter, Burns had one walk and no strikeouts. As a pitcher, he had no walks and one strikeout.
“I don’t know how many guys got their first major league hit and pitched in a major league game in that same game,” Roberts said.
In the last 60 years at least, Burns is the only one, thanks to Sarah Langs at MLB.com.
Andy Burns tonight:— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) June 13, 2021
- 1st career hit
- pitched top of 9th inning
He's the 1st position player in at least the Expansion Era (since 1961) to pitch in a game in which he recorded his 1st career hit
(h/t @EliasSports) https://t.co/bhV8MYtut0
The Dodgers for the better part of a month carried 10 relief pitchers on the active roster. But this week, with Tony Gonsolin returning to give the Dodgers a five-man rotation instead of four, and with Mitch White getting optioned Saturday when Burns was called up to give the Dodgers 13 position players again, the Dodgers have only eight relievers at the moment.
Keeping Trevor Bauer in to start the seventh inning on Saturday, then opting for Burns over another reliever mean the Dodgers head into Sunday with four high-leverage relievers — Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, Victor Gonzalez, and Joe Kelly — all with three days rest. Jimmy Nelson pitched Friday, but that was his only outing in the previous eight days.