The Orioles have gotten an extended look at starting rotation candidates moving forward and there’s still plenty of work ahead of them.
John Means, Matt Harvey, Jorge López, Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Spenser Watkins, Chris Ellis and Bruce Zimmermann have shown what they could do this season.
The Orioles have also gotten ill-fated starts from Adam Plutko, Travis Lakins Sr., Thomas Eshelman, Zac Lowther and Wade LeBlanc.
After experiencing some struggles, Akin has put together two solid outings and put himself in the mix for a spot in 2022.
Alexander Wells and/or Mike Baumann will likely get an opportunity to show they can pitch at the major-league level in September as the Orioles look to fill the fifth starter role for the remainder of the season.
Overall, though, the starting rotation has struggled to go deep into games. Orioles starters have posted a 6.21 ERA entering play Sept. 3, last in the big leagues.
Orioles general manager Mike Elias expected his pitchers to have some trouble this season because of their inexperience.
“Frankly, the pitching staff that we have here right now, there’s no one on the staff making more than $1 million and that’s Matt Harvey, who was brought in on a minor-league deal and made the team out of spring training,” Elias said. “That’s the reality of it. These guys are young, inexperienced pitchers making the minimum. That’s what we did going into this season.
“So I think we knew that we were going to be cycling through guys and experiencing some of the pains that we’re experiencing right now. But looking at the organization as a whole, it’s something that we’re very mindful about. Obviously, we need pitching. I am very impressed with the young pitchers that we have in our minor leagues.”
Means (5-6, 3.46 ERA) has been the Orioles’ best pitcher this season. He has thrown into the sixth inning in 11 of his 20 starts this season. Harvey has made a team-high 27 starts but has a 6.28 ERA. López was recently moved to the bullpen.
Most recently, Ellis has impressed manager Brandon Hyde since he was claimed off waivers from the Rays Aug. 20. The Orioles have gone 1-1 in his two starts. He has allowed four runs and seven hits with five strikeouts and walk in 7.1 innings.
Hyde likes his command, and Ellis is hopeful he found a home in Baltimore.
“I’m extremely blessed to be in this situation,” he said. “It’s been a weird minor-league career for me, bounced around a lot. Had some good years, had some bad years. Thankfully, Tampa Bay took a shot at me, calling me up and kind of set things in motion.
“And now that I’m here, I’m extremely grateful that Hyde is giving me the opportunity to take the ball every fifth day so far. If it stays that way, great. And if not, and I go back to the bullpen, great, too. But I’m extremely fortunate and I’m just trying to make the best of my opportunity here.”
Akin looked like he was headed back to Triple-A Norfolk after going 0-3 and allowing 12 earned runs and 18 hits through his first three starts (12 innings) in August. However, Akin has bounced back and won two straight games, allowing just two runs and five hits in 12 innings.
Akin could be in the mix for a spot in the rotation in 2022, especially if he finishes the final month of the season strongly.
“One through nine can take advantage of you at any point,” Akin said, “So, kind of grind that out and get through five and keep my team in the ballgame is a good confidence boost going into this next start.”
Baumann has shined at Norfolk and deserves an opportunity to make a start for the Orioles. He is 3-3 with a 3.44 ERA in 18 starts between Bowie and Norfolk this year. The Orioles also want to take another look at Wells, who can pitch out of the bullpen as well.
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