Keegan Akin made it out of the first inning tonight, a relatively modest accomplishment except he couldn’t do it in his last start. And he’s young and inexperienced and therefore unpredictable.
He had plenty of help while making that early exit. He had a short memory tonight.
Akin’s outing was more important than the game result in the grand rebuild scheme, but the Orioles got the best of both worlds.
Akin shut out the Braves over five innings, striking out a career-high nine batters while stifling a prolific run-producing team, and the Orioles claimed the series with a 5-1 victory at Camden Yards.
The Orioles improved to 22-27 and avoided a drop to a season-high seven games below .500. They were five behind the Indians for the final playoff spot in the American League.
Iglesias produced another multi-hit game, but he also was nailed on the shin by a Tyler Matzek fastball in the eighth and headed to the trainers’ room.
Hamels, 36, was making his first start of the season. Akin, 25, was making the fourth of his major league career.
Akin struck out six consecutive batters, the last three on only nine pitches. He had seven strikeouts through three innings, five of them with his fastball, one with his curveball and one with his slider. Dansby Swanson swung through a slider to end the fourth, allowing Akin to tie his career high with eight strikeouts.
No. 9 came on a changeup to Adam Duvall leading off the fifth - the most by an Orioles rookie since Dylan Bundy in 2016.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, John Wasdin was the last Orioles pitcher with six consecutive strikeouts on Sept. 30, 2001 at Yankee Stadium. Sammy Stewart holds the club record of seven on Sept. 1, 1978 against the White Sox.
Akin who earned his first major league win, retired 11 batters in a row before Austin Riley’s infield hit with one out in the fifth. Ozzie Albies singled with two outs, Ronald Acuña Jr. flied out and Akin was done after a career-high 93 pitches and only three hits allowed.
The defense was more supportive of Akin than in his previous start in New York, which lasted only two-thirds of an inning. He was burned by two bounced throws and a missed cutoff man that aided a four-run frame.
Manager Brandon Hyde didn’t want Akin’s pitch count to exceed 39 and he took the cautious step of removing the rookie.
Akin threw 25 pitches to the Braves in the first, with Freddie Freeman drawing a walk, Travis d’Arnaud lining a single into right field with two outs and Akin striking out two batters.
Lots of activity and no runs.
Akin kept it that way, but the Braves scored in the sixth on Dillon Tate’s balk after Freddie Freeman singled and moved up on a grounder and passed ball.
Braves left-fielder Marcell Ozuna robbed Renato Núñez of a home run in the fourth inning, making a leaping catch at the fence on Hamel’s final pitch of the night. But Núñez retaliated with a two-run double in the sixth against Josh Tomlin for a 5-1 lead.
The Orioles are 0-17 when scoring three runs or fewer. They needed the cushion.
Four of the next five starters are set for the prolonged Rays series. Dean Kremer in one of the games in Thursday’s doubleheader, veteran Alex Cobb on Friday, Jorge López on Saturday and John Means in Sunday’s home finale.
The bullpen doesn’t hold as many starter options as usual with Thomas Eshelman starting last night and Asher Wojciechowski working the last two innings. César Valdez seemed to be a possibility, but he pitched the ninth inning tonight after Tanner Scott committed a throwing error in the eighth and the Braves ran into two outs on the basepaths. Scott has 11 consecutive scoreless appearances and his ERA is 1.40.
Valdez hasn’t surrendered an earned run in 11 1/3 innings.
Carson Fulmer has a starter’s background, but he isn’t stretched out. However, the limited choices might put him into play.
David Hess is on the 40-man roster and most recently threw two innings Monday at the alternate camp site in Bowie. The suggestion that someone else could make his major league debut within these last two weeks leads to speculation about Baltimore native Bruce Zimmermann.
Zimmermann isn’t on the 40-man roster, but there’s one opening.
Hyde could reveal the mystery starter during his postgame Zoom conference call or wait until the club announces it on Thursday.
Update: Hyde said Kremer is starting the opener of the doubleheader, and the starter for the second game likely will come from the alternate camp site and require a roster move.
Hyde also said Iglesias will undergo a precautionary X-ray on his shin, but the shortstop wanted to stay in the game, which is a good sign.
Hyde on Akin’s dominance: “Especially after the long first inning. I was a little concerned about how long he could go because he threw a lot of pitches in the first, a lot of foul balls, a lot of deep counts, and he really settled in nicely. I just love the aggressiveness in his attack. He attacks hitters, trusts his fastball. You saw a lot of fastballs thrown past guys and the secondary stuff is improving.”
Hyde on Akin’s secondary stuff compared to spring training: “A lot better. No doubt about it. More consistent. Really working on repeating his delivery. It’s a very, very repeatable delivery now. He’s throwing his changeup with good arm speed. Getting some good depth out of that pitch. I just think he’s gaining confidence as he’s continuing to pitch up here and continuing to work between starts.”
Akin on having all pitches working: “Obviously, after last week’s start it was crucial for me to come back out and bounce back and get all my pitches working early to get my rhythm to carry that momentum deep into the game.”
Akin on being in zone with six strikeouts in row: “Oh, for sure. I’m a big tempo guy on the mound. When I get in a rhythm I just like to stay in it and go, go, go. Honestly, I didn’t know I struck out six in a row until you just told me. You just kind of zone in and it’s a blur, really. You just get locked in and you go.”
Akin on game plan: “Just attack. Attack hitters, throw strikes. Try to get ahead early in counts. At this point it’s kind of the pitcher I am. Just attack guys. Put them on their heels. It just makes it easier as a pitcher if you do that.”
Akin on facing pitcher with status of Hamels: “Obviously, he was on a pitch count, but I try to block that stuff out. It was really fun having to go up against (Gerrit) Cole in my second start of the year. I feel like I’m kind of used to it. You just have to block it out and try to keep your team in the game.”
Alberto on Akin: “It was another great performance by him. He mixes his pitches really well. Throwing the ball he way he did today against those good hitters, that was good. We were ready for it. Played defense and supported him and that was another great performance.”