Early on in the second excellent start of Keegan Akin's brief big league career, one three-pitch sequence summed up a lot of the work the left-hander put in to get here. It came in the second inning of Wednesday’s 5-1 win over the Braves at Oriole Park, when with one
Early on in the second excellent start of Keegan Akin's brief big league career, one three-pitch sequence summed up a lot of the work the left-hander put in to get here. It came in the second inning of Wednesday’s 5-1 win over the Braves at Oriole Park, when with one out, Akin made Austin Riley swing through a first-pitch changeup away, froze him with a second-pitch fastball on the inside edge, then struck him out on the next pitch with a back-foot slider.
In the box score, it was one of six straight strikeouts among the nine Akin would rack up against Atlanta’s high-flying, postseason-bound offense over the course of five scoreless innings in his first Major League win. But it was also a glimpse into the development plan the Orioles have long had for the fastball-heavy Akin, whom they kept at Triple-A all last year to work on fine-tuning his secondary pitches.
• Box score
“I just love the aggressiveness in his attack,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He attacks hitters, trusts his fastball and I think the secondary stuff is improving. That’s a really good lineup to go five scoreless against. To do what he did is impressive.”
He had the entire arsenal working Wednesday night to help the Orioles keep pace at the periphery of the Wild Card Series race. Spotted an early three-run lead opposite veteran lefty Cole Hamels, Akin held the Braves to three singles while retiring 11 straight between the first and fifth innings. He whiffed six consecutive batters between the first and third innings, including three on nine pitches across the second and third.
“He was throwing 92 [mph], and it looked like it was 100,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “These guys had some funny swings on him. Evidently, he hides the ball well or something, because we didn’t react to him real well.”
The result was Akin becoming the first Oriole to record six straight strikeouts since John Wasdin on Sept. 30, 2001, against the Yankees, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The club record is seven straight by Sammy Stewart on Sept. 1, 1978. His nine punchouts are the most by an Orioles rookie since Dylan Bundy on Aug. 7, 2016, against the White Sox.
“I can’t even remember some of them to tell you the truth,” Akin said. “When I get in a rhythm, I like to stay in it and go. Go, go, go. I didn’t even know I struck out six in a row. You zone in and it’s a blur, really. You get locked in and you go.”
For Akin, it was a necessary performance given the 39-pitch abbreviated start he had last time out, recording just two outs against the Yankees. For the Orioles, his win Wednesday was an example of the type of pitcher they believed Akin could grow into when they had Akin focus on sharpening his command and offspeed offerings last summer, cautiously keeping their No. 15 prospect per MLB Pipeline at Triple-A while the big league team toiled nightly on the mound.
So it was Wednesday, when Akin still leaned heavily on his high-spin heater, which topped out at 95 mph, per Statcast. But his secondary pitches were deadly when deployed: Braves hitters missed eight of the combined 18 sliders and changeups they offered at, good for a 44 percent whiff rate. All told, Akin’s 19 swinging strikes Wednesday were the most by an O’s pitcher this season.
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“That was another great performance by him,” said Hanser Alberto, whose third-inning RBI double off Hamels in the third opened the scoring. “They are doing a really good job right now, and I think next year they’ll come with more confidence and do an even better job.”
The plural Alberto referenced is the wave of young pitching prospects to reach Baltimore this season, a group headlined by Akin and Dean Kremer and which could soon include Bruce Zimmerman as well. The Orioles have now won four of Akin and Kremer’s first six MLB starts; Akin has been charged with an earned run in only one of four starts, and he's struck out 25 over his first 18 2/3 big league innings. If healthy, they seem like locks for the 2021 rotation along with Alex Cobb and John Means.
• The Orioles ordered precautionary X-rays on José Iglesias' right shin after the shortstop was plunked by a pitch from Tyler Matzek in the eighth. Iglesias finished 2-for-3 to bring his average back up to .381 with 11 games to play.
• Hyde said the Orioles were promoting a pitcher from their secondary site to start Game 2 of Thursday’s doubleheader against the Rays, though he did not specify by name because the transaction was not official. The leading candidate is Zimmermann, an Ellicott City, Md., native whom the Orioles scratched from a scheduled simulated game in Bowie this week ahead of a possible promotion, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. The Orioles’ other option is a bullpen game.
Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.