Akin on how rocky spring turned into strong start

O’s left-hander Keegan Akin had a poor spring training, but when the bell rang and he was on the Orioles' opening day roster, things quickly took a turn for the better.

So I had a simple question for Akin earlier on this homestand: What happened? What made the difference between his previous struggles and his throwing so well in his first two games of 2022, against Tampa Bay and Milwaukee?

Akin allowed five runs and six walks in 5 1/3 innings in spring training. But in his first two regular season outings he threw 5 2/3 scoreless on just two hits with no walks and four strikeouts. His WHIP right now is 0.35. Big difference.

Akin relates that he continues to become healthier the longer he is removed from the core surgery he had early in the offseason after last season. And since this season started he has been in attack mode, going right at hitters. Easy to say, harder to do. He’s doing it. And with success to date.

“A little bit of it was just trying to get over the hump, get back into things coming off the injury in the offseason,” Akin said. “I knew I had to get over that hump, getting back into game speed. And we knew there would be some discomfort to start, the nature of the beast, you can’t get that adrenaline going in the offseason. It was moreso, my main goal was to come out of spring healthy. Obviously, the numbers were not what I wanted and it was a poor showing the first two outings. I put one good one together there at the end.

“Just a little bit different mindset too, I guess, this spring. I wanted to make the team and wanted to pitch better in spring. But I knew that when the lights came on it would be a little bit different mindset, and that the work I put in during the offseason would eventually kick in.

“Honestly, also I wasn’t able to get down to Florida as early as I liked with the lockout. It took a little bit to get used to a dirt mound. Coming up north (Akin makes his offseason home in Michigan) you’re indoors, and in tennis shoes and on a rubber mound. I felt great all offseason and got to camp and my first two or three bullpens, it was like ‘What is this?’ The mound felt foreign to me. Had to battle to get used to it. In years past I got down earlier and didn’t have that luxury this year.  

“But I’m healthy, I feel good and it’s probably the best I’ve felt in three or four years.”

And it’s showing.

Akin threw three scoreless innings in the second game of the year at Tropicana Field and fired 27 strikes in 31 pitches to 10 Tampa Bay batters. Talk about pounding the zone.

“Need to be the aggressor on the mound and not be in defensive mode, trying to get back into counts. When you are behind the count at this level, you get punished, especially in this division. That is one thing I took away from last year and looked at. My numbers behind in the count and ahead in the count are extremely different. I wanted to be on the positive end of that.”

Akin went 2-10 with a 6.63 ERA last year, and going through struggles when a young pitcher is trying to establish himself at the big league level can lead to a confidence hit.

“It does. You see young guys come up and have a little success and then the sophomore slump. It is real, you see it a lot. You know it’s just a learning curve. For me to battle through that and deal with what I did last year, it’s a huge confidence boost right now. I did have some success late in the year (4.02 ERA last season his last six starts) and that was kind of what I built off and looked at. I really honed in on those starts and built on that," he said. 

So for now, Akin is looking like a young pitcher who could finally be turning a corner. Birdland is ready to see that from the young pitchers. Akin is more than ready for that too.

“I was sick of struggling. I would throw six, seven pitches every hitter and going four-inning starts. That can’t happen,” he said.

Farm notes: While the Orioles were losing to the Yankees last night, Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie were both rained out on Saturday and Norfolk has a doubleheader today at noon at Scranton to make that game up.

High Single-A Aberdeen went to the last of the seventh last night at home down 4-1 to Wilmington, but the IronBirds scored four runs to win it 5-4. They are now 6-2.

Outfielder Donta' Williams went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and is batting .435. His two-run triple in the seventh pulled Aberdeen within 4-3. Colton Cowser’s sac fly tied it and a John Rhodes’ RBI single put the IronBirds ahead and they pulled out another one.

Low Single-A Delmarva beat Lynchburg 8-3 as Darrel Hernaiz had a two-run homer and RBI double. Hernaiz is batting .429. Isaac Bellony went 3-for-4 and is hitting .375. Young righty Juan De Los Santos, a 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic, pitched five scoreless innings on two hits. He is 1-1 with a 1.04 ERA.

Along with Tyler Nevin's record-equaling performance when he drove in eight runs for Norfolk Friday to tie a franchise record, infielder Terrin Vavra scored four times, coming just a run shy of matching the franchise mark set in 1982. Outfielder Kyle Stowers doubled three times, also coming a double shy of matching a franchise record, that one set in 2000. Norfolk scored 14 runs Friday, a season high, and has scored more than 10 runs in consecutive games for the first time since May 3-4, 2019. The Tides, through Friday, led the International League with 71 runs scored. Norfolk has posted double-digit run totals three times in 10 games.

The four O’s farm clubs are a combined 21-12 (.636). 

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