Could a rotation anchored by Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann potentially harken back to the days of Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar?
Those are perhaps lofty expectations, but the organization has a lot of confidence in these young arms. All three players have made their debut this season.
“I thought that it was definitely a possibility going in that we would have some young guys here the second half of this season or at least toward the end of the year, and that’s how it worked out,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “We’re excited to give these guys the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues right now and to evaluate them.”
Zimmermann, a Loyola Blakefield graduate, made his debut in the second game of a doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays Sept. 17. He allowed five runs and four hits in three innings with a strikeout during the Orioles’ 10-6 loss.
It wasn’t a great start to his big-league career, but the team is confident he’ll pitch better once he gets more innings under his belt.
“I felt really good. I thought I would have a little more nerves, but I think the worst of my nerves was like an hour before the first game I went out to the dugout by myself and it kind of just hit me a little bit,” Zimmermann said. “But once I got out in the bullpen and started working and getting that done, it really wasn’t that bad.”
To make room for Zimmermann, the Orioles designated Asher Wojciechowski for assignment. Wojciechowski has had an uneven season, going 1-3 with a 6.81 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 10 games (seven starts).
Last season, Zimmermann, 25, split the season between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, going a combined 7-6 with a 3.21 ERA (50 earned runs in 140.0 innings) and 134 strikeouts in 24 starts (25 games). He finished the season ranking in the organization’s top 10 in strikeouts (third with 134), games started (tied for second with 24), complete games (tied for first with two), shutouts (tied for first with two) and innings pitched (second with 140).
Kremer, 24, made his third career start in the first game of the doubleheader against the Rays and continued to shine. He allowed one and three hits with six strikeouts during five innings in the Orioles’ 3-1 loss.
“I would say that I didn’t have my best stuff today, but I really needed to compete,” said Kremer, who has gone 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings. “They put eight lefties in the lineup and one righty. It took me a while to get my breaking ball going. It’s a good thing I had my cutter to get me through, but it was definitely a day where I had to grind through each at-bat.”
Akin, 25, picked up the first win of his career Sept. 16 in the Orioles’ 5-1 victory against the Atlanta Braves. He flashed with five scoreless innings, allowing three hits with nine strikeouts. At one point of the game, Akin struck out six consecutive batters.
It was the type of performance that has the organization full of optimism for the future. Overall, Akin has gone 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA with 25 strikeouts and nine walks during six appearances (including four starts) this season.
“Attack hitters, throw strikes,” Akin said about his strategy on the mound. “Try to get ahead early in counts. At this point it’s kind of the pitcher I am. Just attack guys. Put them on their heels. It just makes it easier as a pitcher if you do that.”
The Orioles now have six pitchers capable of starting with Alex Cobb, John Means, Jorge López, Akin, Kremer and Zimmermann. Hyde is still deciding how he will handle the innings moving forward.
“I think we’re going to play it by ear,” he said. “We have the homestand left and then we have the off day and then we have six [games]. I’m not sure if [Zimmermann is] going to stay in the rotation or possibly do a piggyback situation.”
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