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Milwaukee Brewers 2023 preview by position: Starting Pitcher

Back-end spots are up for grabs behind co-aces in Burnes, Woodruff

MLB: Spring Training-Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago White Sox Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers have several options for starting rotation spots heading into the season. With Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, and Eric Lauer having their spots in the rotation secured, Craig Counsell has the luxury of having several arms to choose from for the fifth or even sixth spot.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at Milwaukee’s starting rotation situation entering 2023.

Corbin Burnes

After three consecutive sub-3.00 ERA seasons, Burnes has solidified himself as the ace of the Brewers pitching staff. He pitched a career-high 202 innings and struck out 243 hitters in 2022, leading the league with 33 starts and pitching to a 2.94 ERA after his Cy Young campaign in 2021 where he finished with a 2.43 ERA.

His ability to eat up innings and strike out batters make him one of the top pitchers in the league. Baseball Reference projects him to pitch 177 innings in 2023, with a 2.95 ERA and 214 strikeouts, giving him another ace-level season as he faces arbitration for the final time in 2024. He may be a trade candidate at the deadline as well, as the Brewers might look to make a move similar to their trade of Josh Hader at the deadline in 2022.

Brandon Woodruff

If Burnes is considered 1A in Milwaukee’s rotation, Woodruff can be considered 1B. A two-time All Star, Woodruff has finished with an ERA right around 3.00 each of the last three seasons, including a 3.05 ERA in 2022. That number is inflated by his early season performance, as he was arguably Milwaukee’s best pitcher late in the season, pitching to a 2.38 ERA across 14 starts after the All-Star break.

Baseball Reference projects Woodruff to have a similar season in 2023, with a 3.08 ERA across 155 innings with 177 strikeouts. While he doesn’t eat up innings as well as Burnes, Woodruff still gets his fair share of strikeouts (190 in 2022 and 211 in 2021).

Freddy Peralta

Peralta had a tough 2022 after a breakout 2021 campaign. In 2021, he finished with a 2.81 ERA over 144 13 innings, striking out 195 and earning an All-Star appearance. He regressed a bit in 2022 as he dealt with injuries, pitching to a 3.58 ERA over 78 innings with 86 strikeouts, although he still finished with an above-average 110 ERA+.

Baseball Reference projects Peralta to finish somewhere between those two seasons, with an ERA of 3.33 and 126 strikeouts across 108 innings. The Brewers are hoping he can recapture some of his 2021 magic as they push to return to the postseason.

Eric Lauer

Lauer had a solid 2022 campaign after a great 2021 season. He finished with a 3.19 ERA across 20 starts in 2021 and a 3.69 ERA across 29 starts in 2022, although his poor month of June really inflated those numbers (6.83 ERA) after pitching like an ace in the first two months of the season (1.93 ERA in April and 2.96 ERA in May).

While he hasn’t pitched well in spring training (16.62 ERA over 4 13 innings), Baseball Reference projects him to finish with a 3.68 ERA with 146 strikeouts across 149 innings in 2023.

Adrian Houser

Considered a potential non-tender candidate after a shaky 2022, the Brewers ultimately decided to bring Houser back for 2023. After he pitched to a solid 3.22 ERA in 2021, he regressed to a 4.73 ERA in 2022, finishing with a career-worst 83 ERA+.

Baseball Reference projects him to improve a bit in 2023, with an ERA of 3.99 and 96 strikeouts across 124 innings. He’ll likely get a chance in the rotation with Ashby injured to start the season, but if he doesn’t pitch well early on, he could find himself as a long reliever out of the bullpen.

Aaron Ashby

The Brewers have high hopes for Ashby, despite a career 4.47 ERA across 40 appearances in 2021 and 2022. While the strikeouts are there (165 in 139 innings), Ashby has struggled with the long ball, giving up 19 in the same period. He does have a 3.95 FIP, signaling an opportunity for improvement as his long-term extension will keep him in a Brewers uniform until at least 2027, with a club option for 2028 and 2029.

While he’ll miss the start of the season with a left shoulder fatigue, he’ll have a chance to join the rotation once he returns in May or June. Baseball Reference projects him to finish with a 4.11 ERA and 114 strikeouts across 103 innings this season.

Wade Miley

After a strong 2018 season with Milwaukee (2.57 ERA over 16 starts), Miley has had a mixed bag the last four seasons with the Astros, Reds, and Cubs. He threw a no-hitter for the Reds in 2021 and finished with a 3.16 ERA with Chicago last season. The Brewers brought him back on a one-year deal this offseason, and he figures to get a chance to start early in the season with Ashby out.

He’s only made one appearance in spring training so far, pitching two scoreless innings with five strikeouts. He’s projected to finish with a 3.68 ERA and 76 strikeouts across 93 innings with Milwaukee this season.

Other Candidates

The Brewers have already optioned Ethan Small and Janson Junk to AAA Nashville, although both players figure to get a chance with the Brewers at some point this season, whether in the rotation or out of the bullpen. Jason Alexander, who made several starts with Milwaukee last season, will be out until May or June with shoulder discomfort as he was moved to the 60-day injured list, but he’ll have a chance to make some spot starts later in the season. Bryse Wilson, who has made 43 starts between the Braves and Pirates across his five-year career, could also get some starts with Milwaukee this season, especially given his strong spring thus far (no runs allowed across 6 23 innings).