Keegan Akin pitches long relief vs. Yankees


Given the roster logistics involved, Keegan Akin’s 3 1/3 innings of bullpen-saving long relief Saturday likely destined the left-hander back to the Minors, if only for the time being. But more pertinently, Akin’s work Saturday sparked a question for when he’s again part of the Orioles roster for good, whether that’s Sunday or some time down the road: Is Akin, the O’s No. 9 prospect per MLB Pipeline, a starter or reliever?

Saturday’s 8-2 loss to the Yankees at Oriole Park seemed to present arguments for both camps. Making his second big league appearance of the season, Akin logged three scoreless innings behind Jorge López, whom the Yankees tagged for five quick runs in two innings. Then Akin hit a wall in his fourth frame, loading the bases before Tyler Wells (balk, Luke Voit two-run single) allowed all three inherited runners to score.

“I am disappointed those three runs scored in that inning because it doesn’t tell the story of how well he threw,” O’s manager Brandon Hyde said. “I was encouraged with how aggressive he was, attacking a good lineup, using multiple pitches, keeping the ball off the barrel and throwing a ton of strikes. That was extremely encouraging.”

The result was a crowded statsheet for Akin that didn’t necessarily reflect not only how he pitched, but the context surrounding his outing. Akin cleaned up the worst start in what’s been a season-long struggle for López; the right-hander owns a 6.35 ERA after beating Akin out for a rotation job this spring. And Akin likely would’ve had a longer leash had he been better built up, and not missed time with a finger laceration last month.

Then there is the state of the Orioles rotation as a whole. Since clawing their way back to within a game of .500 (15-16), the Orioles have lost seven of their last eight games. Baltimore starters are 0-5 with a 6.29 ERA (24 ER, 34 1/3 IP) during that span. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Orioles, who are using a four-man rotation in the short term and were considering Akin to spot-start Sunday, swapping López and Akin in the near future.

That is not, however, their only option. Long-term role has always been a question in scouting circles regarding Akin, given his body type and lack of a true fourth pitch, despite the O’s drafting and developing him exclusively as a starter. Then after reaching the Majors in 2020, Akin was dominant if not durable in his best outings, using his high-spin fastball and quick pace to rack up strikeouts. But he proved prone to filling up the statsheet in his worst outings, susceptible to both shoddy command and high pitch counts. Saturday he was both: excellent in a short stint, inefficient afterwards.

At the very least, the O’s saw it as a generally positive — if delayed — opening act of the season for Akin, who struggled mightily in Spring Training, then missed time at the alternate training site after slicing a finger on his throwing hand with a kitchen knife in late April, losing a potential big league opportunity to No. 10 prospect Zac Lowther in the process. Akin made one abbreviated start at Triple-A Norfolk and was summoned to the big leagues as long relief in Lowther’s place on May 10. Saturday marked his second 2021 appearance, after going 1-2 with a 4.56 ERA in eight games (six starts) down the stretch in 2020.

“He’s still only had a few weeks in the big leagues,” Hyde said. “We’re still going to stretch him out as a starter. He gave us some long relief in this stretch and it was nice to see him out there today going almost four innings. I was just really impressed with how he threw the ball tonight.”

Who says The Shift destroys the double play? The Orioles made it work in nifty fashion in Saturday’s fourth inning, when Pat Valaika and Freddy Galvis teamed up to turn a Voit grounder into a unique twin-killing.

Both positioned on the left side of second base against the right-handed Voit, Valaika fielded the grounder…

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