With the games dwindling and the rotation competition still apparently very much open, it was not a good time for a rough outing on the mound. But 25-year-old Orioles lefty pitching prospect Keegan Akin had one tonight.
He could not make it through the third inning as the Orioles hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates at Ed Smith Stadium.
Making his first appearance in a spring game since March 15 - he certainly had pitched on the back fields on other days - Akin allowed six runs and eight hits over 2 1/3 innings as the Pirates scored twice in the first, once in the second and three times in the third inning, and once after he left the game.
Akin’s night got off to a rocky start when he needed more than 30 pitches to get out of a first inning where Pittsburgh scored two runs on three hits and a walk.
Left fielder Anthony Alford led off with a single to left and advanced to second on a walk. The runners stole second and third with no outs and Phillip Evans batting. Evans then singled to right to score a run, but O’s right fielder Austin Hays threw Erik González out at home. After a strikeout, Wilmer Difo doubled to left for a 2-0 lead.
The Pirates put up another run in the second inning to take a 3-0 lead. Catcher Tony Wolters singled to left and scored when shortstop Liover Peguero doubled to left-center. Akin stranded him at second base, however, getting the next three batters on a line out, strikeout and groundout to second.
But the third inning for Akin went single, walk, strikeout, single and single as he got knocked from the game. Right-hander Mac Sceroler, one of the club’s two Rule 5 draft picks, replaced him.
Hays threw another runner out to end that inning. His throws saved Akin’s line from further damage. This time with the bases loaded, Alford hit a fly to right and Hays easily got Wolters out at home for his second outfield assist of the first three innings.
Down 3-0, the Orioles scored three times in the second and knocked the Pirates’ starter, right-hander Sean Poppen, from the game. Hays led off with a triple to deep right to improve his average to .390. He scored on Pedro Severino’s bloop single to right. Adley Rutschman reached on a fielder’s choice and Pat Valaika walked on four pitches. Trey Mancini’s two-out, two-run single to left tied it up at 3-3.
Right-hander Richard Rodríguez came on in relief. Ryan Mountcastle greeted him with a three-run blast to center field. His fourth spring homer made that a six-run inning and a 6-3 O’s lead.
But the Pirates’ three-run third inning produced a 6-6 tie.
Akin walked two and fanned three, getting just seven outs as his spring ERA increased to 10.00.
“I felt like it was one of those days, didn’t matter what you threw and where you threw it, it got put in play,” he said during an in-game Zoom interview. “You’re going to have those days. Just gotta 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.”
Akin had been pitching on the back fields and was asked how the last week or two had been going for him.
“We’ve just been working on some mechanics stuff. Just trying to get the rhythm and timing down,” he said. “I struggled with that early when I came into camp, so just the main focus there was to get the rhythm and timing down. So, it’s been going well. I feel well. Obviously, 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 on the count as much, so it’s a work in progress. Obviously, it still needs to get better. But it feels good, so...
“I don’t know,” he said when asked whether he believed he would make the roster. “That’s a tough question. I can only do so much to put myself in a good position there. I feel like the last couple outings, my back-field outing the other day, it went pretty well. Obviously, I gave up some hits, but I was ahead in the count. I was throwing strikes. I’m comfortable on the mound now, which the first couple of outings, Holty (pitching coach Chris Holt) and (assistant pitching coach Darren) Holmes had talked about it. I just felt uncomfortable. I was out of synch. It’s just kind of been the main focus right now - to get that back and get it going.”
Speaking of getting it going. Hays is having a huge night.
He hit a three-run homer in the O’s fourth for a 9-6 lead. He is 2-for-3 with a triple, homer, two runs, three RBIs and two outfield assists. After the blast to left he’s batting .395 with an OPS of 1.156.
An O’s win: Behind Hays’ big night, the Orioles beat Pittsburgh 10-9 at Ed Smith Stadium. They improved to 9-14-1 overall, to 7-5 at home and to 3-4 versus Pittsburgh.
The Orioles had 10 hits and five for extra bases. This was their third game of the spring scoring 10 or more runs. And it followed by a night their third time being shut out.
Hays, Mountcastle, Mancini and Severino combined for all 10 RBIs.
The Orioles have four spring games remaining and play in Tampa against the New York Yankees on Friday night, with Jorge López getting that start.
Sceroler threw 2 2/3 innings with no runs charged to his record. So he’s thrown 5 2/3 scoreless innings over his past three games.
Hays, spring or not, nice to have a huge night: “Yeah, absolutely. I play just like I did when I was a kid. Every time I go out and play baseball, I have fun with it. I’m always going to have a smile on my face. Spring training game, intrasquad game, whatever it is, I have fun with it. So, when everything is going right and you get a lot of opportunities to do good things like I did tonight and all the chips fall into place, you’ve got to enjoy that. You know, we’re all here every single day grinding it out for games. So, when good things happen, yeah, it makes me happy.”
Hays is ready to start the year: “Yeah, 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. I’m healthy, just ready to get rolling.”
Hays, what’s more enjoyable, the assists or the homer and hits?: “I’ve had this argument with a couple people. You throw out less people than home runs that you hit. So when I do throw someone out, I get more excited than when I hit a home run. That is one thing I love is being able to throw out a runner, especially at the plate.”