Wednesday, December 07, 2022

For Orioles Keegan Akin, a New Mindset Breathe Start of His Season: ‘Just Attack’

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It took Keegan Akin a moment before he decided to amend the words of his choice. The Orioles left-hander admitted to his previous issues of putting the ball into the strike zone, a side effect of trying to get the ball too fine, too right on the mound.

“It kind of got me into trouble,” Akin said. Then he paused and reconsidered. “Actually, it got me in a lot of trouble.”

He felt, at the moment, the high walk rate due to the pitch of the balloons and allowed more than 1.5 walks plus hits in his first two major league cameos. As Akin rehabilitates this offspring from a main injury that disrupted the end of his 2021 campaign, he took a closer look at the numbers, and they validated his suspicions.

Throughout his career, he has a slugging percentage of .733 on a 2-1 count. On a 3-1 count, this drops to .600, but the base percentage rises to .870. By comparison, the opponents’ slugging percentage from Akin sits at .348 on a 1-2 count and .366 on a 0-2 count.

Seeing this clearly, Akin made a resolution. His perfectionist streak on the mound? The one that causes him to gnaw on corners and lengthen the bats? That will be a thing of the past. Akin has since adopted a new mindset to live by, and it has taken two standouts long respite to start its 2022 season.

“For me, it’s kill mode,” Akin said. “Go go go. Pitch two, three and get them out of there.”

However, in order to return to the clubhouse in Baltimore, relying on manager Brandon Hyde, he needed to recover from a core surgery that took place in September. It turned his off-season into a flurry of getting ready for spring training.

Akin extended the physical therapy sessions near his home in Michigan for a month and a half, yet was still feeling the hip addor strain and the lasting effects of his abdominal surgery. And when he got to Sarasota, Florida, for spring training, he still wasn’t quite fit.

He felt it on the field, lacking the size of the game. And he felt it in his mind, his hurt thoughts and tendency to be overly precise lead to the opposite – missed places.

“I had a head injury at camp, trying to recover from that little hump and feel healthy again,” Akin said. “The main goal was just to feel healthy again.”

He knew that if he wanted to make it to the Orioles’ opening roster of the season, he also needed to perform well. Even with his rocky performance in Florida—he dropped five runs and six walks in 5 1/3 innings—the expanded roster to 28 players in April helped earn him a spot.

And his performance to start the year could help sustain him for the long haul, adapting to a bullpen role once he starts from time to time in 2020 and 2021.

“I’m glad he didn’t let his spring get into season,” said left-hander Paul Fry. “I had a bad spring last spring, so I understand what a psychic can do for you. But I think he’s just attacking the field.

There is a lot of downtime for the relief workers in the bullpen. That’s when Fry and Akin take advantage of this by discussing the mental side of pitching. Both Akin and Fry have suffered a tendency to be too fine on the mound, leading to a tendency to run.

So Fry first discussed the topic in the bullpen during the season-opening series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“It’s one pitch at a time,” Fry said, asking Akin to give advice as much as to remind himself. “Execute it and the results are what they are. You can’t control what happens when it gets out of your hands. So go from there. Execute the pitch.”

With words ringing in his head, Akin took to the mound at Tropicana Field last weekend for his first appearance of the season. He immediately played three no-scoring innings, allowing one hit while hitting one of the three. He bowled only four deliveries in a 31-pitch outing.

Three days later, Akin returned for 2 2/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers, allowing one hit while throwing 24 strikes between his 35 pitches. In two outings for the start of this season, only 37.9% of his pitches were thrown outside the zone, according to data from MLB Statcast. In his 2020 and 2021 seasons, he threw 46.6% of his pitches outside the zone.

“Maybe he’s too caught up in trying to be perfect” [in the past]trying to show what he can do instead of doing what he can and letting him be good enough,” Fry said. “I think attacking with strikes is too big for him. is.”

It’s part of Akin’s new mindset when he’s on the mound, loosening his desire to pick corners in favor of going right after a hitter.

“Stay on attack,” said Akin. “Just attack.”


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