Another set of Orioles questions and curiosities

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in a little over a month, marking the official beginning of the Orioles’ quest for their first back-to-back playoff appearances since 1996-97. And their first consecutive division titles since 1973-74.

They wouldn’t spit on a wild card berth, but the goals get higher as the win totals rise.

There’s also an increase in the questions and curiosities that I’ll bring into camp, with more on deck as the Orioles fill their roster.

I’ve wondered whether Kyle Bradish could build on his breakout season, Jordan Westburg would play more regularly, Cole Irvin would keep bouncing between the rotation and bullpen, and John Means would give the club a full and productive season.

I’ve asked for an update on Dillon Tate and whether Seth Johnson would debut next summer. How much Craig Kimbrel has left in tank, whether Jackson Holliday makes the Opening Day roster, what happens to Joey Ortiz, whether Colton Cowser makes the team in spring training, which version of Jacob Webb we’ll see, and whether Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan O’Hearn are the primary first basemen and their impact on Coby Mayo.

Here are three more.

Can Keegan Akin make the Opening Day roster for the third year in a row?

Akin went back-to-back last spring, when manager Brandon Hyde kept complimenting him for exhibiting perhaps the best stuff in camp. Akin allowed one run and struck out eight batters in eight innings and joined Cionel Pérez and Danny Coulombe as left-handers in relief roles.

Hyde wanted the extra length out of the bullpen while being cautious early with his starters. Not piling too many innings on them out of the gate.

Akin wasn’t scored upon in six of seven appearances, allowing only one run, after returning from a three-week stint in Triple-A that began May 9. But he surrendered 10 earned runs (13 total) and 12 hits in his last four appearances over four innings to leave his ERA at 6.85 and WHIP at 1.775 in 24 games.

The Orioles placed Akin on the 15-day injured list on June 30 with lower-back discomfort and transferred him to the 60-day IL on Aug. 23 after two rehab appearances. First-time eligible for arbitration, Akin is under contract for the upcoming season after signing for $825,000.

Stressing this point again, agreeing to terms or being tendered doesn’t ensure a roster spot. Akin has one more minor league option and the Orioles are flush in left-handed relief candidates, especially if DL Hall isn’t in the rotation.

The climb back to the majors for Akin could be uphill, but he registered a 3.20 ERA and 1.090 WHIP in 45 games in 2022 and permitted much softer contact than last summer. The Orioles could view the back injury as the reason why he wasn’t as effective and trustworthy.

You tell me. Can Akin earn a bullpen spot on March 28 at Camden Yards?

Let’s make it a two-parter. If he doesn’t, can he still be a key contributor?

Is Dean Kremer a lock for the Opening Day rotation?

Seems like an easy “yes” after Kremer went 13-5 with a 4.12 ERA in a career-high 32 starts. After the Orioles were 24-8 in those starts. After he also posted career bests with 157 strikeouts, 14 quality starts and 172 2/3 innings.

And after a strong finish to the regular season, when he had a 3.09 ERA over his last 15 outings and earned the Game 3 assignment in the Division Series.

That one didn’t go well but won’t erase the gains made in 2023.

Kremer tends to get lost within the fussing over Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez, Means’ return from Tommy John surgery, the uncertain roles for Tyler Wells and DL Hall, and a front office search for a starting pitcher.

I think you’ll find Kremer at the back end of the rotation. Where he slots would depend on the new acquisition and where Hyde and his staff decide to put Means.

You tell me. Is Kremer one of the Orioles’ starting five?

Can Cionel Pérez be trusted again?

Pérez packed two seasons into 2023, registering a 4.45 ERA and 1.780 WHIP in 33 appearances in the first half and a 2.35 ERA and 1.261 WHIP in 32 appearances in the second. Opponents batted .309 with an .825 OPS in the first and .202 with a .517 OPS in the second.

Wedged within it was a stint on the 15-day injured list that began July 4, his left forearm soreness revealed after a fifth consecutive scoreless outing.

Pérez finished with a 3.54 ERA after going 23 appearances in a row without allowing an earned run and 26 out of his last 27. He posted a 1.86 ERA over his last 36 outings. His two home runs were surrendered before the All-Star break.

The streak of 23 straight games without an earned run was the longest by an Orioles pitcher since Zack Britton’s 43-game stretch in 2016. Pérez also went 13 games in a row without issuing a walk.

Count Pérez among the bullpen locks on Opening Day. The Orioles are assuming that he won’t revert to his early 2023 form, and that right-handers won’t hit .305 against him.

You tell me. Will the second-half Pérez in 2023 be the full-time Pérez in 2024?

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