Without an official clock to check, I’m guessing that a week to 10 days have passed since someone asked Orioles manager Brandon Hyde whether Keegan Akin would be more effective and valuable as a bulk reliever.
A week to 10 days since Hyde had to execute the tricky maneuver of pointing out the obvious without being condescending.
Akin would be a big help to the Orioles in a bullpen role based on his ability to consume innings and perhaps avoid going through a lineup more than once. But there’s always a catch.
Hyde needs five starters. Take Akin out of the rotation and create a new problem.
John Means is coming off the injured list and starting Tuesday night in St. Petersburg, Fla. Akin is a candidate to start Wednesday, according to Hyde, but there’s always the possibility that he eventually moves to the ‘pen or keeps making starts at Triple-A Norfolk. His turn for a reset.
No one is giving Hyde the necessary innings out of the rotation with Means and Bruce Zimmermann on the injured list. (And I say this fully aware that Zimmermann didn’t complete six innings in his last nine starts.)
Akin is just a more intriguing case because of his prospect status and the back-and-forth over a development plan.
If he’s viewed as a starter, let him do it here or there. Or go the old-school Orioles route of letting him learn and soak up the environment in a major league bullpen and gradually get him back into the rotation.
The latter would be an easier sell if the prospects much higher up the pitching food chain were bursting onto the scene, but it’s too soon for Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall - the latter is on the injured list at Double-A Bowie - and Dean Kremer and Zac Lowther are scuffling at Norfolk. They need more time.
Zimmermann is expected to be reinstated by early-to-mid August. If Akin remains in the rotation, he could be threatened again.
Akin claimed Friday night after surrendering six runs in three innings that confidence wasn’t an issue. Hyde was more concerned about pitch location and selection.
The Orioles must decide whether starting Akin is doing more harm than good - to him as well as the team. And if so, where his education continues.
César Valdez tossed three scoreless innings in Kansas City after replacing Akin and Hyde immediately was asked about the reliever’s role change.
Valdez was scored upon in four straight outings, six of seven and eight of 10. Hyde will let him close if he earns a second chance. Hyde will give him bulk innings if the starters keep bouncing early and Valdez is effective. Letting him start, as he’s done in winter ball, would require more stretching out because Hyde doesn’t need another pitcher leaving after three innings.
The few save situations that arise are handed to someone else. Valdez hasn’t been tasked with one since failing on May 24 in Minnesota, making him 8-for-12.
Is Valdez’s role changing since he was a late-inning reliever? It seems pretty obvious.
“Yeah, it’s been that way for a while now,” Hyde replied, “and I’m just trying to get him to have some success and trying to put him in some low-pressure situations for a while.”
What Valdez did Friday night, and this is unfortunate for the Orioles, could be his niche as long as so many innings need to be covered behind the starter. As long as he’s getting outs instead of pounded.