KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Volunteers pitcher Chase Burns entered the 2023 season as a consensus first-team All-American after garnering several accolades during his freshman campaign. In 2022, Burns struck out 103 batters in 80 1/3 innings to the tune of a 2.91 ERA as a primary starter.
After giving up 23 earned runs in his first 17 1/3 innings of SEC play this season, the decorated righty has experienced a surge in a different role.
On April 16, Burns was inserted in relief against Arkansas after being left off the projected starting rotation. The sophomore tossed 5 1/3 innings behind starter Drew Beam. Burns struck out five batters and allowed one run in a defeat credited to Beam.
Since the shift in assignment at Baum-Walker Stadium in Arkansas, Burns’ resume has been impressive as he has logged 9 1/3 innings of relief in five appearances.
Burns has 18 strikeouts, just one walk and four earned runs dating back to April 21. That’s when he picked up his first conference win of the season in relief against Vanderbilt, punctuating a come-from-behind victory that led to a Vols’ sweep of the Commodores. Burns struck out seven of the nine batters he faced that Friday night.
There’s an apparent difference to Burns’ approach the last month, and according to the sophomore, it starts with some mechanical adjustments.
“Me and (coach Quentin Eberhardt), our strength coach, we talked about my body movements,” Burns said after the victory over Vanderbilt. “So, we’ve really been working on my hips to throw more strikes, so I think it’s really helped. (When I came in) I was warming up in the bullpen out of the stretch the whole time, so when I got that out, I could tell that it felt a whole lot better and smoother. I was throwing more strikes, so I just stuck with it.”
Eberhardt isn’t the only one lending a helping hand to Burns through his progression. Quality coach Redmond Walsh, who pitched for Tennessee from 2017-22, is also forming a new role with the team and picking up key aspects of Burns’ development in the process.
“It was one of the weeks after his last start, and we played catch for like 30 minutes. My arm was hanging afterward,” Walsh says. “Just because he was trying to figure stuff out. One of the things he wanted to make sure was his hips were set and that he was firing well. Because out of one of the things he felt, was that he was leaking out early and not firing great – everything was dragging, slider was spinning a little bit.”
According to Walsh, Burns’ recent success also stems from the mindset of executing a shorter game plan.
“But, I think the biggest thing is that he can just blow it out for two or three innings and not have to worry about ‘am I going to make it to the seventh?,'” Walsh says. “So, it’s really cool to see the mechanical (adjustments) but also the confidence boost of him knowing he has a fastball at 100 mph and a banger slider.”
The way Burns continues to navigate through his second year of college baseball is vital to the team’s fate, as the Vols head toward a fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Tennessee pitching staff finishes the regular season third in the nation in team ERA (3.70). Burns is second in the country in K/9 (14.79), only trailing LSU’s Paul Skenes (17.03). The Tennessee sophomore has struck out 23 of 56 batters he has faced since moving to the relief role.