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Keegan Akin struggles with efficiency, Orioles’ offense mostly quiet in 4-2 loss to Rays

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The Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore Sun

Having received praise from Orioles manager Brandon Hyde for getting by without his best stuff after his previous start, rookie left-hander Keegan Akin couldn’t succeed without his best command Friday.

In a 4-2 loss to open a road series with the Tampa Bay Rays, Akin needed 95 pitches to get 12 outs, surrendering Maryland product Brandon Lowe’s go-ahead two-run homer in a 33-pitch fourth.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Akin said. “You always have it in the back of your mind when you’re battling at-bats out, but I’ve got to execute and try to get them out on five pitches or less. Obviously didn’t make some pitches that I needed to make.”

The defeat marked Baltimore’s 13th straight away from Camden Yards, tied with droughts in 1988 and 2018 for the franchise’s longest road losing streak. The American League East-leading Rays have won 21 of their past 26 games, one fewer than the Orioles have won all year.

Provided a 2-0 lead on Trey Mancini’s third-inning home run, Akin quickly allowed it to be cut in half. Rays catcher Mike Zunino sent a fastball to the left-field wall, but a sharp play from Austin Hays, freshly activated off the injured list, held him to a single. Zunino came around to score anyway, moving to second on another base hit, taking third on a wild pitch and coming home on a fielder’s choice.

Akin escaped the third without further damage before his exhausting fourth. Consecutive singles opened the inning, though Hays helped mitigate the damage by throwing out Mike Brosseau when he tried to stretch his hit into a double. It soon proved to prevent a run when Lowe sent a 1-2 fastball out to right-center field.

Akin walked the next batter, with his three free passes nearly matching the four he issued his first 20 major league innings this season. Through his three starts for the Orioles (22-40) in 2021, Akin has averaged more than 20 pitches per inning. He said pitching coach Chris Holt told him after his start that his first-pitch strike percentage can be the difference between effective outings and nights such as Friday, when he threw a first-pitch strike to only seven of the 18 Rays he faced.

“It’s got to be higher than that,” Akin said. “That’s the No. 1 piece that I take away from some of these outings.”

Behind him, Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells continued his scoreless June with two more shutout frames before Cole Sulser allowed an insurance run in the seventh, the first time he had been scored upon since May 14. Hyde called Wells “the highlight of the night.”

“You see the confidence on the mound, and it’s just growing and building,” he said.

Taking Yarbrough yard

Making his first start in a week after a 113-pitch complete game, Tampa Bay left-hander Ryan Yarbrough didn’t match that distance but was effective regardless.

He struck out two in each of the first two innings, working around Anthony Santander’s one-out double in the first. He could’ve managed a clean third if not for his own throwing error that allowed Pat Valaika to reach with one out. A batter later, Mancini homered off Yarbrough for the third time this year, with the two-run shot ending Mancini’s 10-game dry spell without a home run.

The Orioles managed only one more hit off Yarbrough as he completed five innings before giving way to Tampa Bay’s excellent bullpen, which provided four hitless innings. Both Cedric Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle went hitless, ending their respective nine- and eight-game hitting streaks.

“They have a lot of different angles they can throw at you,” Hyde said. “They can throw anybody from the sixth inning to the ninth inning.”

Around the horn

Rookie Ryan McKenna was optioned Thursday to open a roster spot for Hays to be activated. … Right-handed reliever Shawn Armstrong, who was designated for assignment last week, cleared waivers and was assigned to Triple-A Norfolk. … With John Means on the 10-day injured list with a left shoulder strain, the Orioles will temporarily skip their fifth starter’s spot, with right-hander Jorge López and left-hander Bruce Zimmermann starting the final two games of this series. Because of recent off days, both will start on at least regular rest.

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