If some of the young pitchers at higher levels on the Orioles farm right now – hurlers on a list include Mike Baumann, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells to name a few – want to find someone who had struggles and turned it around, they can look at someone they once shared a rotation with.
They can look at lefty Keegan Akin, someone they know well, because they came up about the same time as he did. Now he is where they want to be – not just in the majors but pitching with success in the big leagues.
It was just Aug. 1 when Akin had an ERA of 8.14. Then 10 days later, he gave up six runs to the Tigers and his ERA was 8.23. But the Orioles kept giving him chances. Over his final six 2021 starts, he took a step forward. With his overall numbers and struggles last year, it may have been hard to notice that he pitched to an ERA of 4.02 his last six starts.
Then he showed up this year healthy and with a strong mindset to attack the zone at all times. And he is thriving.
Akin is 1-0 with a 1.46 ERA and 0.770 WHIP over 24 2/3 innings. He has a 1.8 walk rate, 0.4 homer rate and 7.3 strikeout rate. He's thriving versus lefty and righty batters, at home and on the road.
The message to those still on the farm that may be currently struggling: That can still be you. You can turn struggles into big league success.
“I think all those guys have better stuff than I do, really,” Akin said Thursday morning when I asked him if some of his friends on the farm could follow his path and have success yet. “Baumann’s stuff is pretty electric. Kremer has got a very good fastball, good curveball. I’ve seen it since Double-A. I think the big thing for all those guys is just trusting it. I fell into it a little bit, you start getting hit around and you get antsy, I guess, to groove one in there. You just try to trust your stuff, stay with the game plan and attack guys. Everyone gets hit around and you can get nervous to get back in the zone, be a bit timid. As a whole you just try to attack everybody."
So he still believes very much in the group he came up with.
“Oh yeah. All those guys have good arms,” he said. “They are going to have their scuffles, whether it is here or Triple-A. That will always happen. I think it’s trial and error for those guys. I went through it for months last year. It’s tough and it sucks. Not fun, but you have to stay on it and get through it."
Helping Akin, he admits, is that he stayed on the big league roster almost all of last year. There was no up and down between the minors and majors, no shuttles to ride.
Now he's having a year where he has thrown 254 of 348 (73.0%) pitches for strikes. That is the second-best strike percentage in the major leagues (min. 250 pitches). Eight of his 10 outings have been scoreless.
“I got the chance to stay up here, learn from that and run out there every five days," he said. "Obviously things didn’t always go my way, but there was the fact they trusted me and I was able to battle through it. You are either going to come out on top or keep falling down and fold. Think that is the measuring point – how can you handle it mentally? You have to be able to handle the failure.”
Akin sees the future of the Baltimore pitching staff and likes what he sees. The current arms in the bullpen, the improved rotation, the excellent game prep and use of scouting reports and the pitchers still to come.
“The big leagues isn’t easy and getting thrown into this division is not easy," he said. "We’ve always been a firm believer if you can pitch in this division, you can pitch anywhere. And yeah, it’s exciting to play with all those guys that can still get back here and the next wave coming is going to be exciting as well, with Grayson (Rodriguez) and DL (Hall) and those guys. You see now, we have some pretty electric arms down there in the bullpen and our starters are throwing well. So you get those guys up here and get a good mix in, it’s going to be exciting."