Looking back, Orioles rookie starter Keegan Akin can laugh at his spring training as he discusses it.
“Spring training was awful in my eyes, and I think everybody else’s eyes as well,” he joked.
Two months and a freak injury later, though, Akin is in the big league rotation the way he was meant to be for Opening Day — and pitching well now that he’s finally back.
“I think he’s in a really good spot right now,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
Making his second start of 2021 in Friday’s 3-1 win over Cleveland, the 26-year-old left-hander pitched five shutout innings with four strikeouts and four base runners reaching. Akin stranded two in the second and third innings before retiring the last six batters he faced.
Akin said he had to rely on his fastball and slider more with his changeup not working the way he wanted it to, but he was glad to be able to throw his slider in any count.
Hyde said: “I didn’t think he really had his off-speed stuff early too. I thought he actually got a little better and got a little tired as he went on. Those first few innings took a lot out of him, a lot of foul balls, a lot of deep counts. But he kept pumping strikes. He’s got a lot of confidence in his fastball, flashed some pretty good slider and changeups at times, just wasn’t consistent with it and didn’t allow him to get some swings and misses or early contact to last longer. He was also on regular rest, too. Got a little tired there after the fifth but I was really impressed with how he competed tonight.”
Akin, who entered the season as the Orioles’ No. 10 prospect according to Baseball America, had to wait longer than expected to get this opportunity in the rotation. He struggled badly all spring training and lost the rotation spot that was projected for him to fellow rookie Bruce Zimmermann. In April while working at the alternate site awaiting the Triple-A season to begin, he missed an opportunity to be called up for a spot start when he cut his finger with a knife one morning at his apartment.
Once he was healthy, he made one two-inning start with Triple-A Norfolk before being called up to pitch in a relief role. He made his first start of the year Sunday, and with his scoreless outing Friday, Akin’s ERA is 3.60.
“I thought the best thing for him to do was to go down to Triple-A and get some starts and kind of get his feel back because in spring training he just didn’t have the command that we saw in September of last year, and once he started commanding his pitches a little bit better then we brought him back and pitched him out of the bullpen a little bit,” Hyde said. “Fastball command was really good out of the bullpen and now he’s in the rotation and continuing. Very, very encouraged by it.”
Currently, it’s Akin and Zimmermann as the Orioles’ rotation rookies alongside John Means, Matt Harvey and Jorge López, with the third rookie starter — Dean Kremer — currently at Norfolk.
The Orioles could keep cycling them in and out of the rotation as a way to ensure each is rested and heathy through a long season, but Akin won’t give up his spot with outings like Friday.
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He said: “It was a little extra motivation when I got sent down to go down there and work my butt off and try to get up here with the ultimate goal of being in the rotation and here I am.”