SARASOTA, FLA. — For rookie left-hander Keegan Akin, the devil is in the details.
Akins has pitched four times this spring and has been scored upon in each of those outings, which is a source of frustration for a young man who really wants to take the next step in his development.
The offending pitch this time was a misdirected fastball that rangy Atlanta Braves outfielder Cristian Pache launched into the stratosphere in the second inning of the Orioles’ 6-3 comeback victory at Ed Smith Stadium.
The ball was hit so hard that center fielder Austin Hays just watched in awe.
“I kind of felt uncomfortable out of the stretch,” Akin said. “That’s kind of been my whole spring training memo I guess. Yeah, one bad pitch. Obviously, and the leadoff walk to lead off the inning. Just trying to eliminate those. Other than that, I felt pretty good.”
He gave up a total of four hits and struck out four in a 51-pitch outing that featured 38 strikes and some effective fastballs up in the zone.
“That’s usually my bread and butter,” he said. “If my fastball’s good up in the zone it helps me with my other things, it just makes things easier to pitch off of.”
Akin has pitched 9⅔ innings and allowed eight earned runs this spring, but has shown decent overall command, striking out nine and walking just two. It wasn’t enough to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster, though, as Akin was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after Tuesday night’s game.
“I thought he had a good fastball again tonight,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I just thought he missed location trying to go in on Pache. ... He kind of left it in the middle over the plate. But I think the key with Keegan is going to be to be able to be consistent with his off-speed stuff. I love his fastball. I love the way he throws in. there’s a lot of things I really like about his arsenal. Now, it’s about him finding and really being able to locate off-speed stuff. He did it again on occasion tonight, flashed some good changeups, threw a few nice breaking balls. So I thought he did a nice job.”
The Orioles chipped away at that early lead with solo home runs by Anthony Santander and Hanser Alberto, then scored three times in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI double by José Iglesias, a run-scoring fielders choice by Renato Núñez, and a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch.
Once again, Hyde had to be pleased with the performance of his young relievers. Cody Carroll lit up the radar gun again in a one-hit inning, Dillon Tate gave up just a single in two scoreless innings and Brandon Kline also gave up just one harmless hit in a shutout seventh.
Travis Lakins Sr. and Rob Zastryzny would run Tuesday’s string of relief zeroes to six with a hitless eighth and ninth, but the actual string is 11, dating to the final five innings of Sunday’s game against the Yankees, during which five pitchers each pitched one scoreless and combined to give up just one hit.
"All of our bullpen guys threw the ball great,'' Hyde said. “Love the way Carroll threw again. Tate, two scoreless—that was the first time Tate has gone two innings. Lakins with some really good curveballs, a nice cutter/curveball mix. I thought Branden Kline threw the ball well, Rob Z there at the end. All those guys are doing a nice job. It’s all about strike one for us. Strike one, being able to win 1-1 counts, and when you have leverage counts being able to put guys away. Our guys did that tonight.”
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