A reader and commenter on Camden Chat summed up Keegan Akin’s 2021 season succinctly, and accurately, after a recent outing of his.
“People were writing off Akin way too fast,” the commenter posted. “Baseball is hard.”
Baseball is hard. Few pitchers have done a better job of proving that than Akin during a season that has been equal parts trying, dismal, frustrating and demoralizing.
But the post’s other point was that, because baseball is hard, its players can still find a way to right the ship. And Akin has lately been flirting with proving that true as well.
After dropping three straight decisions to fall to 0-8, Akin began to show that, you know what, he might be able to hack it at this level after all. First game seven innings of three-hit and one-run ball against the Angels in a 13-1 win. Next came five innings while allowing two hits and one run against one of the best offenses in the sport in Toronto, a game the Orioles eventually won 4-2.
The comeback narrative took a bit of a dent with a rocky outing against the Yankees (four innings, three hits, four earned runs), but the fact is that, over his last three starts, the pitcher who left the mound on Aug. 20 with an 0-8 record, 7.92 ERA and .328 batting average against has gone 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA and a .145 and .593 opponents’ batting average and OPS, respectively.
If you’re an Orioles fan — a safe assumption if you’re reading this article — you had to like the way Akin looked in that second-to-last outing, against Toronto. It wasn’t like he was giving up the same hard shots he has been all season, and they were just finally finding Baltimore gloves. Akin instead looked in command, utilizing different areas of the strike zone, getting ahead of hitters and rarely giving them anything to handle over the heart of the plate.
Akin pitched with poise and calmness that you would think must be in short supply when you’ve become accustomed to seeing your pitches smacked all over the yard from the first at-bat of the game. It was a confident outing, and Akin looked more like a pitcher who’s gotten used to success than one who was coming off one bad start after another after another.
That’s a great development for the 26-year-old lefty, who was ranked the No. 15 prospect in the organization in 2020 and 11th best in 2019. The page hasn’t been completely turned from those summer struggles; as the Yankees game proved, Akin is still kind of flipping back and forth a bit.
But it’s encouraging that Akin has been able to regain his footing and find the success that he had found earlier in the season. In his first six outings, Akin had a 3.60 ERA, and his sixth appearance was the best of the bunch as he pitched five shutout innings against Cleveland.
Then came the miserable next 12 games, during which Akin’s ERA ballooned to 9.89 and he looked as lost as Dean Kremer did at the start of the year. He was getting hammered each time out, and it was looking like Akin was just not cut out for the big time, and had run headlong into his ceiling as a pitcher.
Now, however, Akin is showing that there’s, as they say, some “there” there. As the Yankees outing showed, it’s a process, and Akin will probably have a few more times where he takes his lumps. As long as he balances them with some more outings like he had against the Angels and Blue Jays, then that process continues, and continues in a direction the Orioles’ ever-so-patient front office would be happy with.
One needs only to look at the story of Zack Greinke, who went 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA four years before winning the Cy Young Award, as an example of how you can have all the talent you need, still struggle mightily, and still come back. This isn’t saying Akin is anywhere near the pitcher Greinke has been, but it just goes to show, again, that baseball is hard. And success for even the best can be hard-earned.
However his next few starts go, Akin deserves credit for fighting back from the depths of June and July and getting the arrow to point back up. Some pitchers get humbled and don’t recover. There’s a similar story going on with Kremer, who impressed at times in 2020, stumbled to start this year, and even in Triple-A hasn’t been able to straighten things out. Akin, for the moment, seems like he either has, or is on to something.
If he has, it’s a big boost for the Orioles’ rebuild, which is doing well in quality but is still in need of some quantity. Players like Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez and D.L. Hall are the reason the Orioles’ system was ranked so highly recently, but as Dan Connolly pointed out, when you get past the studs at the top, there’s not as much depth as you would want.
Players like Rutschman and Rodriguez certainly look like players who can make the O’s a lot better, but in order for this rebuild to truly succeed, in order for this team to become one that competes and contends for division and American League championships, those second-tier prospects ranked around eighth, 10th, 12th, 15th are going to need to come through.
Akin would fall into that group. He’s got a long way to go. But after looking like a lost cause earlier in the season, he’s showing that he might just be figuring things out.