A smart approach, but hard to execute.
Akin made the start tonight and threw 32 pitches in a two-run top of the first inning against the Pirates in Sarasota. He was charged with six runs and eight hits in only 2 1/3, walking two batters and striking out three, and headed to the dugout with head bowed at 73 pitches.
Austin Hays tripled, hit a three-run homer, doubled and threw out two runners at the plate to absorb most of the attention in a 10-9 win. But the conversation was bound to shift back to Akin.
Rule 5 pick Mac Sceroler inherited runners on the corners with one out and the Orioles leading 6-5. Liover Peguero tied the game with a single, but right fielder Hays picked up his second assist of the night by nailing Tony Wolters at the plate with a laser near the line that catcher Pedro Severino reached up to snare on the fly.
The Orioles tallied six runs in the second inning to wipe out a 3-0 deficit. Hays tripled and scored on Severino’s single, Trey Mancini had a two-run single and Ryan Mountcastle launched a three-run homer. But they’re already guaranteed jobs.
Akin is trying to hold onto his spot in the rotation after the Orioles selected Matt Harvey’s contract earlier today and Wade LeBlanc requested and received his release.
“I just think he battled into the third inning,” manager Brandon Hyde said in his Zoom call. “He was throwing strikes, he just gave up some hits. I thought he had some bad luck in the first. He had a strikeout that wasn’t called a strikeout, it was called a foul tip or something. It prolonged the inning and potentially would have put up a zero there in the first inning, and it just kind of steamrolled from there. But I feel like he is making strides, I think he’s throwing the ball better than he was early. Saw some decent changeups tonight, so I think his work on the back fields has been really good and tonight it was just some unfortunate luck.”
The Pirates had three hits and drew a walk in the first and executed a double steal while taking a 2-0 lead. Hays threw out Erik González at the plate on Phillip Evans’ RBI single, but Wilmer Difo had a run-scoring double with two outs.
Peguero produced an RBI double in the second. Wolters had a two-run single in the third after the Pirates loaded the bases with one out and Akin was done.
“I felt like it was one of those days, no matter what you threw and where you threw it, it got put in play,” Akin said in his Zoom call. “You’re going to have those days. You’ve just got to battle through them and try to put yourself in the best possible position even though it’s not really going the way you want it to go.
“It’s been going well, I feel well. Obviously, I guess the positive I take away from it is I’m throwing strikes, I’m not walking a bunch of guys, I’m not behind in the count as much, so it’s a work in progress. Obviously, still needs to get better, but it feels good.”
LeBlanc opted out for reasons that aren’t confirmed. He didn’t think he was making the team. He didn’t think he was going to start. I’ve heard he was headed to the bullpen - again, not confirmed - and wanted to recheck the market before perhaps circling back. The door appears to be ajar.
Whatever the motivation, his exit from camp could create opportunities for pitchers left behind.
Maybe it’s a little easier for Akin, but tonight’s outing came at a bad time. Another rookie left-hander, Bruce Zimmermann, meets less resistance in his bid to start or relieve while tossing nine scoreless innings with only one hit surrendered. He’s struck out 10 batters.
There isn’t much more he can do to make his point.
“I have not been told anything so far,” Zimmermann said today in his Zoom call. “I’m not really expecting to, probably, for the next couple days just with how the rotation is shaking out right now. Obviously, they’re still stretching out a lot of starters.
“I feel really good about how I’ve come into camp and how I’ve played so far. I think I’ve shown what I needed to show and done everything that I could in my power to show that I earned a spot on the roster and whatnot. So, I’m going to keep going about my business and taking care of what I need to take care of day to day. It looks like I’ll probably get one more outing here before the end of camp, so just looking forward to building off what I’ve done so far and let the chips fall where they may when it comes to the roster decision.”
Félix Hernández can opt out of his contract over the weekend, but right now the bigger issue is getting him on a mound again. He threw a light bullpen yesterday and didn’t experience a reoccurrence of the elbow soreness that removed him from a March 16 start after one flawless inning.
“It went well,” Hyde said earlier today. “He came out feeling good. He felt very positive about how it went. I know he was relieved after, feeling that he can progress from there. So, all signs were positive in his ‘pen.”
Which doesn’t mean he avoids the injured list or is headed north next week. Good news that brings no real clarity to his situation.
“That’s one side and then we re-evaluate,” Hyde said. “He’ll play catch again tomorrow and we’ll go from there, but not sure where we are with him being on a mound from a game standpoint right now.”
Sceroler and Rule 5 selection Tyler Wells didn’t seem to have a prayer, but the pitcher picture is changing. At least one of them - and Wells might have inched past Sceroler - could stick on the 26-man roster.
Carrying a 14th pitcher wouldn’t hurt.
“Maybe,” Hyde said this afternoon. “It’s one less guy. We’re going to continue to look at them. ... They’re still in our camp and they’re competing for a job.”
Hyde didn’t speak with LeBlanc this afternoon.
“I talked to Wade yesterday,” he said, “but that was a conversation that Mike (Elias) had with his agent.”
The exchange yesterday with Harvey was much more enjoyable. Hyde and Elias passed along their decision in the manager’s office, toying with him at first by hinting at a negative outcome.
“You feel like whenever you can give people good news in this business, it’s the best feeling in the world,” Hyde said. “And for a guy that has worked so hard, had a really good camp, done everything right, the career that he’s had, it’s been well-written about, for him to do what he has done so far, it was a really special feeling to give him the news yesterday morning that he was added to the roster.
“We had a little bit of fun with it. I had the pitching guy, as well as Cuz (Tim Cossins) and some of the coaches in the other room with the door closed ready to give a big bear hug after the news. It was a lot of fun. It was cool to see how excited he was.”
Cedric Mullins led off the fourth with a bunt hit, Mountcastle singled and stole second base and Hays took Michael Feliz deep to left field. Hays crossed the plate slashing .395/.435/.721 with three doubles, a triple, three home runs, 11 RBIs and nine runs scored in 15 games. His 17 hits led the club.
Make it 18. Hays doubled in the seventh to come within a single of the cycle and left the field smiling and slashing .409/.447/.750.
Severino had an RBI double for a 10-7 lead.
“I feel healthy, I feel comfortable at the plate, I feel good at all three outfield spots right now, I’m comfortable on the bases, so I just feel like I’m ready and firing on all cylinders and I’m healthy, just ready to get rolling,” Hays said on his Zoom call.
“He’s doing it all right now, offensively and defensively,” Hyde said. “I’m really impressed with his defense. Threw two guys out tonight, double, triple and homer. Love the way he’s driving the ball to all fields. Love that triple in the first inning where he hits a three-iron into right. He’s an exciting player. There’s huge upside with Austin’s game, just because he’s so talented physically, and we’ve got to keep him healthy and he’s got a chance to be a good player.”
What’s more exciting, the three hits or two assists?
“I’ve had this argument with a couple people,” Hays said. “You throw out less people than home runs that you hit, so when I do throw someone out, I get more excited when I hit a home run. That’s just one thing I love is being able to throw out a runner, especially at the plate.”
Sceroler wasn’t charged with a run over 2 2/3 innings, his fourth scoreless appearance out of five.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Hyde said. “Came in, put him in a tough spot. Kind of limited the damage there and then threw two scoreless innings after. Landed some breaking balls those last two innings, which was nice to see. Aggressive with the fastball, beat guys with his fastball. A lot of fly balls that his fastball got into the zone quickly and guys were on their back leg on it, and then dropped some breaking balls and slider and curveball, which is what I wanted to see.”
Jahmai Jones committed two errors in the inning. The stadium radar gun clocked Scott’s fastball at 101 mph.
Left-hander Fernando Abad loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth and was nailed by a line drive on the lower left leg. He allowed two runs on a double play and infield hit. A strikeout ended the inning.
Left-hander Paul Fry recorded the save - don’t read too much into him closing - by retiring the side in order.