It is not a rule that every series the Orioles play this year has to end in a sweep. But if they beat the Nationals this afternoon in Washington, they will have played in four consecutive sweeps.
The Yankees swept two straight in Baltimore, then the O’s took three straight from Tampa Bay and Miami took four in a row from Baltimore. Today we could see a three-game sweep.
If the Orioles get it, the 2020 club will have produced two more series sweeps that the 2019 squad did in 52 series. Which was zero. And it will be sweeps against a 2019 Rays club that won 96 and the defending World Series champions.
Last night’s game had the feel of one of those first three games with the Marlins, with the Orioles being shut out into the eighth. The offense looked like they were headed for a not-tonight night. That changed quickly on the back-to-back pinch-hit homers by Pat Valaika and Pedro Severino. Then Austin Hays drew an 11-pitch walk off Daniel Hudson to set the stage for Anthony Santander’s three-run homer to left for the 5-3 lead.
It was a stunning inning with the first back-to-back pinch-homers in the majors since Sept. 3, 2018 by San Francisco, and the first by the Orioles since 1985.
Plus, there was plenty of clutch pitching by a bullpen that walked four but fanned nine over five innings of work.
Today it’s right-hander Asher Wojciechowski against Stephen Strasburg in the series finale.
More Keegan Akin: We already knew left-hander Keegan Akin might get a shot with the Orioles this year. But when he went to spring training in February in Florida, Akin found out he was part of prime real estate in the O’s clubhouse. And maybe that was another clue his day was soon coming.
“That’s a great seat. Can’t get much better, in my mind,” Akin told me then. “Rookie All-Star and a vet like Cobb. I’m just a sponge. Absorb everything. Talk to those guys about their careers and how they go about their business. Just a big learning curve for me and it’s going well.
“It’s exciting. I’ve come all the way through the organization and now it’s exciting, knowing I could get my shot.”
That call he’s been waiting for came Saturday, and he had to change his afternoon plans from going grocery shopping with his fiancée to reporting to Nats Park for the game between the Orioles and Nationals Saturday night.
Akin did not put up great stats in 2019 at Triple-A Norfolk. But he did make progress in working extensively on his secondary pitches at the club’s urging and becoming much more comfortable throwing them in any count.
He went 6-7 with a 4.73 ERA over 25 games. But that ERA actually ranked sixth in the International League among qualified pitchers after a year when scoring was up with use of the major league ball. Homers were up 57 percent in the league in 2019. He led the IL in strikeouts, becoming the first Tide to do that since right-hander Manny Hernandez in 1990. And he finished tied for first in the league in average against at .252.
Akin, who was added to the 40-man roster in November, throws his fastball often at 92 or 93 mph, touching 95 mph, and mixes in a slider and changeup.
In an offseason interview with the Orioles’ director of pitching, Chris Holt, we talked about Akin and his 2019 season.
“Keegan did a great job taking some things into his work this year in terms of being able to throw his off-speed pitches more and get comfortable throwing all pitches to both bat sides,” said Holt. “A high strikeout-rate guy and also had an increase in walk rate. But honestly, with what I was asking him to do - throw off-speed pitches behind in the count to be able to attack the zone - he took on that work. It did cost him some walks, but really I don’t care. I want him to throw the pitches and get comfortable doing the things he’ll have to do on TV (in the majors).”
I asked Holt which Akin pitches improved at Norfolk.
“Definitely the changeup,” he said. “He threw changeups more this year than in the past, and he also threw his slider to right-handed batters as well. In terms of improving the off-speed weapons and how and when he was going to use those, that was a nice piece of his work this year. He’s also improved his delivery consistency quite a bit. There is still some work to be done, but overall, the work he put together on the year was very, very solid.”
Akin did not get into the game last night, but could today with Wojciechowski pitching on short rest.