Keegan Akin out to prove "I still belong on this team"

SARASOTA, Fla. – Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said lefty Keegan Akin “has thrown the ball as well as anyone in camp, this whole time.” He likes Akin’s mid-90s velocity, his breaking pitches and said he is having a great camp.

Akin appreciates hearing that, but after a second half in 2022 where his stats fell off, he is trying to get back in attack mode on the mound and find the form he had in the first half last year.

Before the All-Star break, the 27-year-old Akin had an ERA of 2.36, WHIP of 0.881 and OPS against of .580. But in the second half, his ERA jumped to 4.76 with a 1.482 WHIP and .768 OPS against.

This spring he has thrown five scoreless innings, allowing three hits and one walk with five strikeouts. In the fifth and sixth here against Boston on Sunday, he threw two scoreless, retiring six of seven batters.

“Just throwing strikes,” he said this morning in the Baltimore clubhouse of his solid spring to this point. “It is something I could praise myself for the beginning of the year last year. Feel like I got away from that in the second half and paid for it. Trying to get back on track, throw strikes and fill the zone up. It has worked so far.

“I threw a lot in the first half. I feel like the second half, I don’t know if I got tired, I don’t know, but I tried to look at things from one half to the next and what was different. I just feel like I was more aggressive I guess on the strike-throwing aspect of things. So just trying to get back to that and not pitch around people or (be) timid. Put the pressure on them. That led to the first-half success.”

Akin felt his stuff was solid all of last year and held up through the long season, even if his control and command did not.

“I don’t think it slipped," he said. "The velo held well and my slider got better I think as the season went on. Velo stayed up on that pitch, too. Just was more so (poor) locations and getting hit more and that led to more being behind in the count. Just need to fill up the zone. Got away from that and got in trouble.”

Akin is aware the O’s bullpen is not loaded with lefties and he had such a good half season in 2022. But despite that, he is definitely not secure in his roster spot. He’s out to earn the job.

“I’ve got to come in here and prove I still belong on this team," said Akin. "We are stacked in the arms department. Need to throw strikes to be there."

Hyde on roster: Orioles manager Brandon Hyde is managing today’s split-squad roster in North Port against Atlanta while bench coach Fredi González will be acting skipper at Ed Smith Stadium for the home half.

Hyde said Sunday the O’s Opening Day roster remains very much a work in progress. Heading into today’s two games, the Orioles have played 16 games and have 16 left.

So nothing is too firm yet for final roster spots.

“Not really,” Hyde said. “I think there are a couple of bench spots open and I’m glad to see everyone is playing so well that’s in camp and swinging the bat so well. That’s going to be a great competition as we head into our off-day (Wednesday) and the two weeks after that. And then bullpen, I don’t know yet either. Have not finalized the bullpen. Waiting to see, knock on wood, that everyone stays healthy and see how some guys are going to throw like (Nick) Vespi and (Félix) Bautista are pitching this week. Hopefully we stay healthy and have to make some tough decisions at the end.

“You know Opening Day, that’s a date but five days later your roster could look completely different. That is not abnormal. So depth is really important and I feel really good that whoever doesn’t make our club that we will be bringing up big leaguers when things happen throughout the year.”

Hyde said pregame in North Port today that Bautista will make his awaited spring debut tomorrow and pitch against the Pirates in Bradenton. He has been slow played in camp as he finished up offseason rehab on his left knee and also strengthening of his right shoulder. But the time has come to get him in games and see if he can pitch enough to be ready for Opening Day.

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