Akin labors again in loss: 'Not happy about it'

August 11th, 2021

BALTIMORE -- Down at Triple-A Norfolk, top prospect Adley Rutschman wasn’t the only new arrival to the Tides on Tuesday night. Also returning to that level on a rehab assignment was left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, who fired five no-hit innings to Rutschman in what should be his final tuneup before rejoining the Orioles’ rotation.

A lingering case of left biceps tendinitis has kept Zimmermann out since mid-June, swinging a fresh door of opportunity open that has spent the past two months walking in and out of. Now, that door could be closing.

Akin was hit hard again in his first start since July 16, bearing the brunt of Tuesday night’s 9-4 loss to the Tigers at Camden Yards. After waiting out a one-hour, 54-minute rain delay, Akin was tagged for six runs on seven hits and one walk over three innings to swell his ERA to 8.23. It was the third consecutive start of three innings or fewer for the rookie, and his sixth straight of fewer than five innings.

All told, the Orioles have lost each of Akin’s last 10 appearances. He’s 0-6 with 10.90 ERA across those outings, seven of them starts.

“I’m not happy with it,” Akin said. “I need to get better. Executing pitches was the theme of this one. I just need to get better.”

Given those results, Akin appears the logical option to slide back into long relief upon Zimmermann’s return, where he’s performed better (5.50 ERA in 18 innings) by comparison. That would leave Zimmermann, Spenser Watkins and Jorge López to round out the back end of the O’s rotation behind John Means and Matt Harvey in the season’s home stretch.

Tuesday’s loss was the Orioles’ sixth straight -- they’ve allowed 63 runs over that stretch, and at least nine in each defeat. With it, they became the first team to allow at least nine runs in six straight games since the 2002 Royals, and the 10th team to do it in the Modern Era (since 1901). The all-time record for most consecutive games allowing nine or more runs is seven.

Making strides
Baltimore had to be encouraged by the swings taken on Tuesday by , who homered in each of his first two at-bats against Tigers starter Casey Mize. Santander pulled his first homer onto Eutaw Street, his fifth career Eutaw Street homer, which tied him with Rafael Palmeiro for third all-time. His second went to the opposite field, capping Santander’s first multihomer game since Aug. 18, 2020.

“It’s noticeably different,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “The bat speed is different because he has his legs underneath him and a better place to hit from. A lot of the year, he was laboring to get the bat through, and now he’s swinging with the bat speed we’ve seen in the past.”

Santander made a bid for his third home run in the eighth, instead flying out to the warning track in left-center, where Akil Baddoo and Derek Hill had a nasty collision on the play. Both players left the game under their own power, but they were clearly shaken up.

“That was a scary moment,” Hyde said. “From my view, you were hoping there weren’t heads colliding. It was really hard to see guys laying on the ground. That was scary for everybody.”

DJ Stewart also broke an 0-for-14 skid with a solo homer off Mize in the fourth. It’s been a long year for both Santander and Stewart. Stewart’s homer was his first since June 19; he’s hitting .198 with eight homers in 76 games, confined mostly to sporadic designated hitter duties.

Santander was the Orioles’ breakout star of the shortened 2020 season, hitting 11 homers in 37 games and 31 over 130 games stretching back to 2019. But he missed a month with a sprained left ankle earlier this season, watched his production slide afterwards and missed an additional week in July in COVID protocol. All told, Santander has nine homers and a .714 OPS in 71 games, below-league-average production from a player Baltimore had recently considered a building block. He and Stewart are two of the many O's with something to prove down the stretch.

“I feel so much better now,” Santander said.

According to Diplán
A bright spot coming in after Akin, rookie right-hander logged two perfect innings in his second big league appearance. Diplán is now unscored upon across his first 3 2/3 innings, striking out four in that span. It doesn’t take much to earn Hyde’s trust these days in the Orioles’ worn-down ‘pen, making Diplán likely to earn more assignments in the near future even with Tanner Scott, Tyler Wells and Hunter Harvey returning soon from injury.

The Orioles' bullpen has fallen into dire straits without that group over the past few weeks. Including the three runs that Adam Plutko and Alexander Wells allowed in Tuesday’s late innings, O’s relievers own a collective 6.75 ERA since the All-Star break.

“I’m hoping to give [Diplán] the ball more,” Hyde said. “I liked the way he came in and threw strikes and showed good stuff. He attacked hitters.”