Entering spring training, Keegan Akin had an advantage over last year. He had eight major league appearances and six starts in 2020.
“It was my first big league camp,” Akin said in a video conference call from Orioles spring training in Sarasota, Florida. “I was just trying to get my feet wet, get a feel for things.
“Now that I’ve had a few innings in the big leagues and a couple of starts, I get the idea of what I have to work on and take it into the offseason, and then you come into spring training and compete and hope at the end of the six weeks, you’ve got a job and you’re headed north with the team.”
Akin had a 1-2 record and 4.56 ERA in 2020.
John Means is assured of a spot in the starting rotation, and Akin and Dean Kremer, who also made his major league debut late last year, are probables.
They’re joined by three major league veterans — Matt Harvey, Félix Hernandez and Wade LeBlanc — and Bruce Zimmermann, who also pitched in the majors for the first time late last season, Jorge López, who started Monday against the Phillies, and Thomas Eshelman, who started Sunday against the Pirates.
Akin is impressed by the group.
“Matt Harvey threw on a back field, a two-inning sim game,” he said. “He looked really good. Félix has looked good in his bullpens. Obviously, it’s good to see Wade LeBlanc back and healthy. I think we’ve all, all the pitchers that I’ve seen, have had pretty good outings or bullpens. It should be interesting. There’s a lot of arms, a lot of good arms in camp, a lot of good competition going around.”
Since Akin’s first camp in 2020 he’s had to adapt to changes no one could have anticipated.
“With the Covid protocols, it’s literally ‘get in, get out,’ No sitting around. It’s pretty tight on the time frame, so it’s a little unique because I’m not used to being at the field for just a few hours a day.”
It’s cut down on the chance to get to know new teammates with experience.
“For sure, if I’m on a different schedule,” Akin said. “Like today, I have a bullpen, and they don’t have bullpens. I’ll see them in the locker room. When we go outside and do things, we’re probably on different fields. I’m off doing my own thing. They’re off doing their own thing.
“Last year, or in years past, everybody’s part of one big group. You’re all going through things together. This year, it’s just split up. Even trying to get to know some of the new guys in camp, it’s pretty tough. There’s supposed to be social distancing in the clubhouse. It’s pretty hard to go to sit around somebody’s locker and get to know them or talk to them. It’s keep your distance, get your work in and go from there.”
The pitchers are doing their best to support one another.
“It’s pretty cool because I got to talk to John [Means] like that, and I played with him since I was in Double-A. For me to mentor those guys, like [Zac] Lowther and [Michael] Baumann, and even [Alexander] Wells, when he was over here for a little bit. I’ve known those guys for a while. If they’ve got questions, they come to me. If I don’t know, it goes up the totem pole to John, and we go from there.”
Akin is trying to learn from his first season.
“I always say consistency,” Akin said. “I had some pretty good outings where I got pretty far into the game last year, and then I had outings where I was knocked out pretty early. Consistency has been the key word, and you start looking at other things, what’s going to help you be consistent. In my opinion, it’s competing in the strike zone with all my pitches instead of just one or two and trying to get ahead of hitters. When you get ahead of hitters, it’s a lot easier to pitch …”
Akin is determined the get better.
“I would say motivated more by failure,” he said. “I think everybody in the clubhouse would say you’re going to be hardest on yourself and hold yourself to a higher standard than most people, so it’s tough when you have those outings … but you usually can learn a little bit more from those outings than you can from the ones where you go out and mow them down.”