How Detroit Tigers' Beau Burrows used tech to get back on track: 'I had all the sensors'

Anthony Fenech
Detroit Free Press

Beau Burrows figured it out after his only outing before the coronavirus shut down baseball in the spring.

On Feb. 22, Burrows was rocked for five runs on four hits and a walk while getting just two outs in the Tigers’ first Grapefruit League game.

At face value, it was another step back for the Detroit Tigers' 2015 first-round pick. But after that game, keyed by pitching coach Rick Anderson and aided by the Tigers’ analytical advancements, it became a turning point — perhaps for his career.

“It clicked after that outing I had, which was pretty terrible,” he said. “I went back on the back fields, working with the pitching coaches and it literally clicked within a week. I was throwing harder and felt like myself. I took that over to quarantine and it’s been good ever since.”

Tigers pitcher Beau Burrows throws during the intrasquad scrimmage Thursday, July 9, 2020, at Comerica Park.

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Burrows, who turns 24 in September, is an afterthought in the Tigers’ organization.

But now — in what looks like a different role, with newfound confidence — Burrows may be the best story of summer camp.

For four seasons in the Tigers organization, the right-hander never quite established himself as a top prospect, but he stayed healthy as he moved up the system. Then, in 2019, he went through an injury-riddled season at Triple-A Toledo. At the time, the Tigers were hoping he and fellow righty Kyle Funkhouser would break into the big leagues. Instead, with his mechanics out of whack, Burrows was tested. In 65⅓ innings in Toledo, he had a 5.51 ERA and a 1.531 WHIP, both career highs.

“It was a first for me,” he said. “It was a weird year for me. It sucked not being healthy and being who I know I can be, so it feels good right now, almost like I’m normal.”

While Burrows is a long shot to make the Tigers bullpen out of summer camp, his improvement has been noticeable. What "clicked," he said, was getting his body back in sync for his delivery.

“It was mechanics,” he said. “It was my arm path, arm action, and being on time with the lower half and really being in sync. Once that clicked, it felt normal. I don’t know how I got out of everything, but I just wasn’t in sync at all. Once I did, it was a quick transition being normal.”

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Although Burrows hasn't heard about his future role, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said in the spring that he would transition to the bullpen.

But Burrows is in a spot where he’s focusing pitch-by-pitch — he hasn't been counting how many pitches he has built up to this summer.

“I don’t even know that,” he laughed. “I don’t know how many times I threw today or the day before. I go out there whenever they tell me to and stop whenever they say stop.”

Though Anderson got him back on track, Burrows believes pitching in the Tigers’ "SmartCage" — with sensors around his body to track movements — helped with finding himself on the mound.

Tigers prospect and U.S. Team pitcher Beau Burrows delivers the pitch against the World Team during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Marlins Park on July 9, 2017 in Miami.

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“It’s nice to see how your body works and moves down the mound,” he said. “I had all the sensors, cameras, it was cool to actually see what my body is doing.”

Burrows threw a solid inning of relief on Sunday inthe Tigers' intrasquad scrimmage; while the mechanical improvement isn’t immediately apparent, the optimism can definitely be heard in his voice.

“My confidence is pretty high right now,” he said. “I was pretty down on myself after being out quite a bit, but the more I get out on the mound and I feel healthy, I feel good, it’s going to keep building, and confidence is a big key."

Contact Anthony Fenech at Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.