Orioles hope Akin's start is a sign that it's too early to give up on their underperforming players - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles hope Akin’s start is a sign that it’s too early to give up on their underperforming players

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

The Orioles’ series with the Los Angeles Angels began with the team threatening its own American League record of 21 consecutive losses and increasing scrutiny from the national media that the Orioles aren’t doing all they can to win while rebuilding from the ground up.

The Orioles stopped the losing streak at 19, which tied for the fourth longest in baseball history. On Thursday, they won for the second straight time and watched Keegan Akin, one of their biggest disappointments this year, pitch the best game of his career.

The two wins give them 40. Although they’re heading for their third 100-loss season in the past four years — with the 60-game 2020 season not counting — Akin’s win was symbolically important.

It was not only the best performance from Akin, but the best from any starter besides John Means. Akin completed seven innings, recording four more outs than he’s ever done before.

His record is still 1-8 with a 7.26 ERA. But his performance could have been the first toward fulfilling the potential he showed in a small sample size last year.

Akin remained in the rotation because the Orioles don’t have many choices. Spenser Watkins, who allowed eight runs in two-plus innings on Tuesday night in the 19th straight loss, has lost six in a row with a 7.07 ERA and is scheduled to start on Sunday against Tampa Bay.

The Orioles have much more invested in Akin than in Watkins. Akin was a second-round draft choice in 2016. Watkins signed a minor league contract in February.

For the Orioles’ record to improve in 2022, they’ll need better performances from those who have underperformed — Akin, Dean Kremer and Zac Lowther.

They have a lot invested in Kremer and Lowther, too. Kremer was 0-7 with a 7.25 ERA in 12 starts with the Orioles, and he’s 0-5 with a 6.29 ERA in 12 games, four of them recent relief appearances, for Triple-A Norfolk.

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Kremer, outfielder Yusniel Diaz and infielder Rylan Bannon are the players remaining from the Manny Machado trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2018.

Kremer was 1-1 with a 4.82 ERA in four starts late last season with the Orioles. He and Akin pitched well enough to convince the Orioles to go forward with them for 2021.

On Thursday night, Lowther, who has been slowed by left shoulder soreness, made a rehab start for Double-A Bowie. He gave up two unearned runs on five hits in four innings, striking out four and walking one.

Lowther had a 10.80 ERA in five games with the Orioles. As a second-round pick in the 2017 draft, the team has much invested in him as well.

The Orioles need to find out if Akin, Kremer and Lowther can be part of their long-term plan, or at least pieces to help them get to their long-term plan.

Those three and Cody Sedlock, the team’s top draft pick in 2016 who only recently was promoted to Norfolk, are pitchers who haven’t fulfilled their promise. Because they haven’t delivered and because there hasn’t been anyone pushing them for major league jobs, they continue to receive opportunities.

It doesn’t matter that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias didn’t choose them. He has elected to keep all of them because he has seen enough potential to believe they could be part of the solution.

Elias also inherited two top-shelf pitching prospects. DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez were the Orioles’ top picks in 2017 and 2018. For a short time, both were on Bowie’s staff until Hall’s elbow bothered him. He has been shut down for the season.

Last week, Elias indicated that it’s possible that Rodriguez, who sped through High-A Aberdeen with a 3-0 record and a 1.54 ERA and is 5-1 with a 2.92 ERA with the Baysox, could get bumped up to Norfolk for the season’s final weeks.

Because of Hall’s injury, Rodriguez has jumped past him and could reach the Orioles first. So should top prospect catcher Adley Rutschman, who’s batting .358 in his first 13 games with the Tides. Rodriguez and Rutschman should be with the Orioles next season.

“I don’t know if any one or two players is going to dramatically improve our record,” Elias said last Friday. “I mean, look, these guys are two of the very best prospects in the game. They both had immense success in Double-A.

“Adley’s getting a taste of Triple-A. I think that’s coming for Grayson at some point. We’re having discussions on when it makes sense to do that in his case. But when you’re a top 10 prospect in the league and you’re an elite performer at Double-A, things start to get pretty real at that point. So fingers crossed with health for everyone, including those two … they’re certainly on the radar screen for 2022 in a big way.”

Diaz’s 2021 has been one with multiple injuries and a .172 average in 32 games at Norfolk.

Chris Ellis’ start on Wednesday night made him the 55th player used by the team this year, just three away from the team record. Ellis is one of a number of new pitchers along with Watkins, Conner Greene, Marcos Diplán and Fernando Abad. They’re getting a chance because prospects such as Akin, Kremer and Lowther haven’t produced.

While Diaz has been hurt and has floundered at the plate, opportunities have gone to DJ Stewart, the top draft pick in 2015, and Ryan McKenna. Stewart’s difficulties in the outfield are evident, but the Orioles also have a lot invested in him, and Diaz hasn’t been there to push him.

The Orioles have used 33 pitchers this season. Elias has been criticized for the quality of the free-agent pitchers he has signed. Matt Harvey has maintained a presence in the starting rotation, but two other veterans he signed, Félix Hernández and Wade LeBlanc, are long gone.

It would have helped had the team been able to sign a higher-caliber starter in the offseason, but the Orioles are the lowest choice for any free-agent pitcher. Not only is the team not competitive but pitching nearly half your games in the American League East and in cozy Oriole Park isn’t an attractive option.

Because their young pitchers have underperformed — one who was performing, Bruce Zimmermann, has miss extended time because of left biceps tendinitis and a sprained ankle — they’ve appeared overmatched many times this season.

Next spring training should feature Akin, Hall, Lowther, Kremer, Means, Rodriguez, Zimmermann, Mike Baumann, Alexander Wells and perhaps Sedlock, Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith, two starters at Norfolk expected to be added to the 40-man roster.

It will be interesting to see if Elias deviates from his past strategy and attempts to trade for or sign better starters. Even if he does, the Orioles still are going to need some of their prospects to live up to their promise.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Arkyoriole

    August 27, 2021 at 7:33 am

    Don’t write-off Blaine Knight just yet.

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 27, 2021 at 7:46 am

      Certainly not, Arky. Knight, who was promoted along with Sedlock will get a look,too.

  2. OriolesNumber1Fan

    August 27, 2021 at 8:20 am

    Hey Rich – You should have put this in ALL CAPS – “…but the Orioles are the lowest choice for any free-agent pitcher. Not only is the team not competitive but pitching nearly half your games in the American League East and in cozy Oriole Park isn’t an attractive option.” Certain fans on this site think just throwing big salaries at pitchers will lure them to Baltimore. But in reality this only complicates matters as the Orioles are considered a small market club. They are still paying for Chris Davis’s salary, although it will be prolonged due to the deferrals Davis and the team agreed upon. Also, the Orioles paid most of Alex Cobb’s salary just to get him off their books and get Jahmai Jones in the trade. (The Angels will only pay $5MM of Cobb’s $15MM, and some of that includes deferrals) So to go right back into salary prison on huge contracts needs to be done for the right player(s) at the right time.
    So yeah, like you stated – “It will be interesting to see if Elias deviates from his past strategy and attempts to trade for or sign better starters. Even if he does, the Orioles still are going to need some of their prospects to live up to their promise” And remember under Mike Elias new leadership, he didn’t benefit from trading the quality of players Dan Duquette did at the trading deadline to bring in prospects he liked, like most General Managers do when they are hired, so his progress to improve the team has been slower than most fans might like to see. But in less than 3 years (Elias was hired on November 16, 2018) he has the Orioles as the Number 1 farm system as he declared he would accomplish.
    But when the time is right and the pitchers he wants are available for trade/FA, he will make the move like they did when he was in Houston, when they obtained Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander and Wade Miley. Trading for proven aces like that along with all the talented young players he’s getting will make the Orioles a contender again. Until then, lets wait for the talent to reach the major leagues and do well before we put the cart before the horse.

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 27, 2021 at 8:26 am

      Dario, Greinke and Miley were obtained by Houston in 2019, after Elias came to Baltimore.

      • OriolesNumber1Fan

        August 27, 2021 at 4:01 pm

        Rich – Nitpicking aside, and regardless, I think Mike Elias saw what Houston did while he was there and after he left and will do the same when the time is right! And Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander are aces he helped attain while Greinke and Miley are 3rd and 5th starters respectfully.

    • Birdman

      August 27, 2021 at 3:13 pm

      I agree that Elias has done a generally good job, given the situation he inherited and the very limited financial resources he has to work with.

      But I disagree that the Orioles should simply stand pat, and do nothing to supplement the pitching staff. Of course, no one is seriously talking about the Orioles trying to sign star pitchers like a Cole, Greinke, or Verlander, or even lower tier signings like Cobb and Ubaldo. We all know that isn’t going happen. But there is a big difference between signing pitchers to $50 million plus contracts, and having a staff composed entirely of pitchers at, or just barely above, major league minimum salary. Ownership needs to began making some investments this off-season, not 4 or 5 years from now, to field an at least semi-competitive team.

    • CalsPals

      August 27, 2021 at 4:03 pm

      As long as it doesn’t include banging on garbage cans…go O’s…

  3. Orial

    August 27, 2021 at 8:29 am

    Rich I think you hit the nail on the head. There are two directions for the O’s to build a pitching staff–develope or overpay. Overpay is a long shot. Unless they change the stadium dimensions or play a level/even schedule(not balanced toward AL East),both highly unlikely,that will have to be the approach. Not every game at OPACY has been a blowout there have been some gems,so it can be done. Gonzalez,Chen,Tillman,Britton,O’Day,etc. seemed ok with it in 2013-2016. Rich wondering if, despite hearing Elijah Greene’s name as the number one pick in 22 draft,that pitching could come central focus(Elias has been favoring position)?

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 27, 2021 at 8:44 am

      Al, we’re more than 10 months away from the draft. Even though the Orioles currently have the worst record in baseball, Arizona and Texas have only slightly better records, so the top draft pick isn’t a certainty.

  4. Tileman

    August 27, 2021 at 8:42 am

    Based on OPACY issues with pitchers why don’t the O’s try to get their pitchers throwing a lot more sinkers to keep the balls from going airborne.
    Also curious what Adleys stats are on throwing out runners

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 27, 2021 at 8:55 am

      Overall this season, Rutschman has thrown out 14 of 49 (29 percent) of runners attempting to steal.

  5. Orioles20

    August 27, 2021 at 9:35 am

    I think part of the problem with Akin and some guys like Lowther and Alex Wells is they don’t put the work in. They’ve never had to get better. I think if the three of them went to a place like driveline they would really improve like zimmermann did. Kremer has improved his strike throwing and cut down on the walls but now looks like he’s throwing to many strikes. Diaz can’t stay on the field and when he’s on the field he does absolutely nothing. And he better figure it out soon with more outfielders on there way up. Guys like Stowers and Watson will pas him if he doesn’t start to put it together. Another guy to me that shows his potential is Stewart but he’s terrible defensively and outside of a week or two at a time doesn’t hit. At some point as more prospects come up the orioles are going to have to move on but I agree it’s to early to give up. I think a lot of these guys have till the all star break next year to show some consistency. .

  6. Balt mp

    August 27, 2021 at 10:07 am

    O’s20 is correct and not just because he is my son LOL . The facts are that most of this group has between 4-5 years pitching experience in pro ball they should have thrown far more innings there then they have . Akin I believe has only recently pitched himself into shape having seen Grayson Rodriguez in person you can tell he works at it Akin needs to work harder both thru excecise and private pitching schools like a drive line . In some defense of the pitching only now are the Orioles beginning to field a decent defensive infield note to Hyde play Urias at 3rd and Matteo at short and Jones at 2nd everyday every at bat and see what you have . Stewart same as Akin he needs to lean out and drop the bat down from your ear your 199 average speaks for your issues your uppercut is horrible.
    I think with the added prospects some of these guys will figure out they’re coming to a fork in a road get better and have a good mlb career or be another failed prospect .

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      August 27, 2021 at 10:44 am

      Nepotism at BB.com ? Egad !!

      So I’ll ask both of you … how do you come to the conclusion that certain players don’t work hard at their craft?

      • Balt mp

        August 28, 2021 at 12:12 pm

        Very simple Akin is not or was not in shape . He has stated on multiple occasions that in the off season he works out in a barn in Michigan . He failed to make the team out of spring training when the Orioles had a welcome mat out for him . His velocity was down and his control was awful . Look at his stats by inning for the year he consistently until his last three starts failed to get to the fifth inning getting pounded in the 4-5 inning when his velocity dropped to 91 . His breaking ball is not thrown for strikes and his change is inconsistent. Contrast this with a Means or Zimmerman that work at it all year they pickup 1-2 mph on their fastball and they can throw their breaking stuff for strikes consistently.

        Look at DJ Stewart horrible routes on balls fails to hit cut-off men consistently. He fails to adjust at the plate fails to consistently hit fastballs . His swing like Chris Davis is long and looping . He should drop his hands from his ears to the letters to shorten the stroke . When did Davis go downhill very simply when he could not catch up to fastballs .

        It’s not limited to these guys the Orioles show an amazing inability to adjust to the opposition they are not held to any standards of accountability at all.

    • CalsPals

      August 27, 2021 at 10:54 am

      Agree, thought was a strong statement without first hand info, or was it just an educated guess?…go O’s…

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 27, 2021 at 10:59 am

      Ken, since you’re the nephew of three Orioles’ legends, you’re hardly one to discuss nepotism.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        August 27, 2021 at 5:33 pm

        🙂 I was adopted Rich. Doesn’t count.

    • Icterus fan

      August 27, 2021 at 1:58 pm

      Rapier wit!

    • CalsPals

      August 28, 2021 at 4:47 pm

      Thx Balt no, can’t argue your points…go O’s…

  7. Buzz1979

    August 27, 2021 at 10:16 am

    Rich, if even 2 of the 4 pan out, I would be thrilled.

  8. willmiranda

    August 27, 2021 at 11:27 am

    I don’t think that you can say that players who have not performed over some period of time have “underperformed.” I think a striking aspect of the O’s is that, going down the roster, you really don’t know
    how good any of them are. We’re repeatedly told, “We want to see what he can do,” but we never find out as the player is moved to another position or the bull pen or, most popular of all, “designated for assignment.” As someone noted, it’s the same throughout the organization. What kind of odds would you get on naming the starting ten for Opening Day 2022? BTW, I have no problem with the descriptive “promising,” taken with a grain of salt.

  9. millboy

    August 27, 2021 at 4:04 pm

    Wow…if you’re not 6’2 and a slim 190 you are not trying hard enough to be in shape…remember Kirby Puckett?

    • CalsPals

      August 27, 2021 at 4:11 pm

      Body shaming at its best…go O’s…

    • Icterus fan

      August 27, 2021 at 5:24 pm

      Ahem. Bartolo Colon?

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      August 27, 2021 at 5:31 pm

      Wilbur Wood … Mickey Lolich ……uhhhhhhh ………BABE RUTH anybody?

    • CalsPals

      August 27, 2021 at 5:44 pm

      Both of the Fielders, Sabathia, Miggy, Sandoval, Mo Vaughn, I’m quite sure there’s a “ton” more…go O’s…

  10. millboy

    August 27, 2021 at 4:59 pm

    Thanks Rich for all the great articles…makes my day

    • Rich Dubroff

      August 27, 2021 at 6:15 pm

      Thank you for telling me that. You’re very nice to do that.

  11. OriolesNumber1Fan

    August 27, 2021 at 5:53 pm

    As usual, misery and company both bring nothing to the proverbial table! Nothing constructive, just destructive.

  12. millboy

    August 28, 2021 at 7:15 am

    Sabathia was 342 at his heaviest and still won 251 games

    • CalsPals

      August 28, 2021 at 7:41 am

      Case on point, not destructive…thx…go O’s…

    • CalsPals

      August 28, 2021 at 7:42 am

      In, lol, fat fingers too…go O’s…

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