Akin settles down: 'That was encouraging'

August 15th, 2021

BOSTON -- Ahead of Sunday’s series finale, the Orioles made five roster moves -- all involving pitchers. The O’s selected the contracts of left-hander Fernando Abad and right-hander Konner Wade from Triple-A Norfolk, optioned righty Dusten Knight to Norfolk, designated righty Adam Plutko for assignment and transferred left-hander Bruce Zimmermann to the 60-day injured list with a right ankle sprain.

Over the course of a three-game set at Fenway Park, the Orioles were outscored 30-5, with the rotation responsible for 16 of the runs allowed. The series culminated Sunday with Baltimore’s best starting pitching performance of the weekend: three runs on six hits over four innings from in a 6-2 loss to Boston, the O's 11th in a row.

“That’s kind of what it is this year for us,” manager Brandon Hyde said following Sunday’s roster moves. “Kind of a revolving door from a pitching standpoint. Hoping that guys come in and throw well, but we’ve had our struggles. Hopefully, we can start pitching better [in] the last six weeks.”

All three of the runs charged to Akin came via J.D. Martinez’s homer in the first inning, setting the stage for another early exit from an O’s starter. But Akin recovered in the ensuing innings, escaping a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout of Bobby Dalbec to end the third and facing just four batters in his last frame.

“Yeah, that was encouraging,” Hyde said. “Got his pitch count up a little bit. I thought the second, third and fourth innings were good, had a quick fourth. Just made some center-cut pitches there in the first inning, and just with the base open there with Martinez, a slider behind the count just really can’t happen with [Kyle] Schwarber on deck.”

How would the 26-year-old rate his outing? “I’d say, ‘OK,'" he said.

“A little better than the last couple starts, but still gotta get a little better, go deeper in the game,” Akin said. “But happy with it, especially after the first inning. Just gotta bounce back and get a little better next outing.”

Akin, who owns an 8.13 ERA across 17 outings (10 starts), was named the starter for the finale only the night prior. Earlier in the week, the Orioles had been hopeful that Zimmermann would be reinstated from the IL in time to make his start on Sunday. The lefty has been sidelined since June 15 with left bicep tendinitis, but he suffered a major setback this week after sustaining an ankle sprain while doing conditioning work in Norfolk, Va.

“He’s getting further tests going with the ankle,” Hyde said on Sunday. “The 60-day IL, it’s been 60 [days]. So we can recall him at any time. I think we’re hoping that there’s a chance that he pitches before the season’s over, but we’re not sure. Just have to see how the ankle recovers and kind of what the doctors say about it. … We’re hoping that he can bounce back from it.”

Zimmermann’s injury news extended an already difficult week for Orioles pitchers. Ace John Means allowed a season-high six runs in a 4 1/3-inning outing vs. the Tigers on Thursday. Spenser Watkins and Jorge López followed with their own season highs in runs (six and seven, respectively) in the first two games of the Boston series.

Marcos Diplán took over for Akin, pitching a 1-2-3 fifth inning against the heart of Boston’s order. In his first Major League outing since 2019, Abad recorded just one out, allowing three runs in the sixth before turning the ball over to Tanner Scott. The lefty reliever was reinstated from the IL (left knee sprain) earlier this week, along with right-hander Tyler Wells (right wrist tendinitis).

Given the state of the rotation, the relievers rejoining the bullpen was an especially welcome sight for the Orioles. In his first appearance of the series, Scott allowed a single and walked a batter before recording the final two outs of the sixth.

At more than 30 games back in the American League East, the Orioles aren’t exactly setting their sights on a postseason push. Rather, the goal for the rest of the season is to find improvements on the mound and at the plate. Akin’s start on Sunday was an encouraging first step, a hopeful trend in the right direction for the pitching staff.

“It’s tough, you never want to go on an 11-game losing streak,” Akin said. “But you know, I have faith we’re going to turn it around and grind it out and figure it out.”