Left-hander Keegan Akin made his first start last night with Triple-A Norfolk, inserted into a rotation that he tried to leave behind for good last summer. Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann follows Akin tonight as the extended series continues in Jacksonville.
Dean Kremer was the last rookie standing with the Orioles, having made it back from his option and preparing for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Red Sox. He’ll be joined tonight by left-hander Zac Lowther, whose second promotion brings his first major league start.
Akin didn’t break camp with the team after struggling with his command and posting a 10.00 ERA and 2.44 WHIP in nine exhibition innings. Zimmermann was optioned Monday after failing to complete five innings for the third start in a row, with the club giving him the same reset as Kremer and choosing the extra bullpen arm.
Chris Holt, the club’s pitching coach and director of pitching, handles the newcomers in much the same manner as the others. Drawing from them the strengths and areas where they need to improve. Formulating a work plan to accomplish those goals.
“From that vantage point, no different,” Holt said yesterday in a Zoom call. “And then navigating some of the new things for them and being able to understand kind of what their experiences are like going first time through as like a true full-season rookie presents challenges that we know what those things are.
“It’s a lot of new things and a lot of pressures and things to deal with, so being able to try to stay consistent with how we go about our work and also navigate the things that we need to navigate as they occur and continue to work to set the bar where we know they’re capable of pitching. There’s no question about what they’re capable of doing, and working to that end is really what we’re about. So staying consistent with that message. And these guys can do it.
“These guys are phenomenal talents, and consistency is the name of the game here, so that’s what we’re working for.”
The Orioles could have recalled Akin tonight, but kept him in Triple-A. He was a strong consideration for the last spot start before cutting his left index finger.
Wade LeBlanc was cut after making the start.
Akin worked two innings last night and was charged with two runs and two hits, with one walk, five strikeouts and a hit batter. He threw 34 of his 49 pitches in the first and surrendered a two-run homer to Jesús Sánchez, but struck out three batters in the second.
The Orioles could field four rookie starters in their rotation this summer with Kremer, Akin, Zimmermann and Lowther. All of them slotted behind John Means.
The likelihood grows if Matt Harvey is traded at the deadline. He’s a potential chip with the improvement shown, though last night was a disappointment. And if Jorge López is moved to the bullpen, though manager Brandon Hyde said he isn’t ready to give up on the right-hander as a starter.
That debate will intensify if López keeps slamming his head on the fifth-inning ceiling.
Mike Baumann also has been viewed as a debut candidate, but he’s got to get healthy. He’s back in Sarasota due to a recurrence of the arm soreness that cut short his time at the alternate camp site.
Alexander Wells offers the potential to also debut, now that his oblique has healed. He’s starting for Norfolk on Sunday after failing to get into an exhibition game.
Getting them to the majors offers more exposure to Holt and assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes, who held the title of bullpen coach last season. Holt replaced Doug Brocail as pitching coach and kept his other title and responsibilities.
“It’s been excellent,” Holt said of working with Holmes. “I think getting to know him last year, he’s an individual who is very invested in people and players. He shows up every day with a thirst for continuing to work to get that much better and has that rapport with all the pitchers, so the dynamic has been excellent.
“There’s so much crossover between he and I with, whether it’s delivery or pitch spins, you name it across the board. There’s so much crossover to work with. And of course he has years of major league experience as a player and a coach, which is hugely valuable. He’s also working to pick up some of the things I’ve been accustomed to working with in the last five, six years, as well, so it’s been tremendous and look forward to showing up to work with him every day.”
Four rookies started for the Orioles last season: Akin, Kremer, Zimmermann and Thomas Eshelman. However, four or more rookies have started at least five games only twice in club history, according to STATS.
The 2009 season featured six with Jason Berken (24), Brad Bergesen (19), David Hernandez (19), Chris Tillman (12), Koji Uehara (12) and Brian Matusz (eight). The 2002 season had four rookies in Rodrigo Lopez (28), Travis Driskill (19), John Stephens (11) and Sean Douglass (eight).
The 2021 Orioles probably feel a little bit better about their collection of pitching prospects.
I’d love to talk about it with my dad. He would have turned 81 today.
Miss him every day.