Life in the bullpen is going pretty well for Orioles lefty Keegan Akin.
Drafted and developed as a starter, Akin appeared in 32 games, 23 as a starter, for the Orioles from 2020-2021 and posted a 6.19 ERA with 117 strikeouts, 50 walks and 20 homers allowed in 120.2 innings. As a full-time reliever this year, the 5-foot-11, 235-pound left-hander has recorded a 1.46 ERA with 20 strikeouts and five walks in 24.2 innings.
So why has the bullpen been a good spot for Akin?
“It’s kind of the world of the unknown. You don’t exactly know when you’re going to pitch, so it keeps you on the edge of your seat a little bit,” Akin said on Glenn Clark Radio May 16. “I kind of like that feeling, I guess — the thrill of it, I guess you could say, the adrenaline rush you kind of get when your name gets called when that phone rings.”
Akin, 27, was drafted by the Orioles in the second round out of Western Michigan in 2016 and enjoyed success as he rose through Baltimore’s farm system as a starter. But his command started to slip once he got to Triple-A Norfolk — 61 walks in 112.1 innings in 2019 — and the majors proved to be an even greater challenge. Only five times did he ever record an out in the sixth inning as a starter in the big leagues.
There are no plans for Akin to go back to the rotation, the left-hander said. He pointed out the different challenges that starters face trying to navigate through big league lineups, mostly stemming from facing the same hitters three times. Facing hitters one time allows Akin to come right after them with his best stuff without worrying about how he’ll mix things up later in the game.
That pairs well with the philosophy Orioles pitchers have this year.
“As a whole in the bullpen, it’s just been attack mode this year,” Akin said. “You’re seeing a lot of guys come out and go right after guys instead of trying to get pretty with it, make perfect pitches and things like that. That was really the big focus for us as a whole pitching staff in general — attack guys, just try to eliminate walks, try to put them on their heels and be the aggressor in the situation. It’s a little harder to hit when you’re 0-2, 1-2 in the count rather than 2-1, 2-0, 3-1.”
Akin’s view of the ballgame has also changed as a reliever. As a starter, he watched games from the dugout, but as a reliever, he watches games from the bullpen and needs to warm up at a moment’s notice. But until that phone call comes, relievers have to keep themselves occupied.
Allow Akin to explain the game relievers play every day, which begins after the starter has finished warming up and leaves the bullpen.
“Then we all take a baseball and we stand on the mound. It’s like bocce ball,” Akin said. “There’s a ball that has all our names on it. It has the score. Our bullpen catcher Ben [Carhart] had decked it out and colored it and made it all pretty and stuff. But the goal is to try to land it on home plate of the bullpen. The winner of the previous day gets to go first and then we keep tally marks on the ball of who’s won the most. And then at the end of the year it’s just bragging rights at that point. It’s something to do every day.”
The contests happen at Camden Yards and on the road, and Akin is still getting a feel for all the bullpens in the major leagues.
“Some of them are quicker than others,” Akin said. “Some have actual grass in between home plate. It’s like a little game of golf. You’ve got to play the surface.”
And who’s winning so far?
“I think Dillon Tate went on a roll, actually, to be honest with you,” Akin said. “Tate I think won four or five in a row like a week or two ago, but I think he’s got the lead right now. He’s got six or seven and the next closest is like three, so we’ve got some work to do.”
For more from Akin, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox