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Orioles send Cedric Mullins back to minors

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Even a rebuilding club has its limits. The Orioles sent their struggling outfielder back down to the minors.

Oakland Athletics v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Orioles are slowly trying to address some of the problem spots on their roster. After Mike Wright was designated for assignment on Sunday, the Orioles made another choice about a struggling player on Monday afternoon, optioning outfielder Cedric Mullins to Triple-A Norfolk.

In a corresponding move, the Orioles selected the contract of infielder Stevie Wilkerson from Norfolk. Wilkerson was pulled off the 40-man roster towards the end of spring training when the O’s chose to designate him for assignment to make room for catcher Pedro Severino. Now he’s back, and reliever Josh Lucas, who was optioned to the minors between games of Saturday’s doubleheader, has been DFA’d in turn.

With Mullins sporting a .094/.181/.156 batting line through 22 games this season, it’s hard for anyone to argue that the big league level is where the 24-year-old belongs right now, even on a rebuilding club. Former Oriole Brian Roberts has been calling attention on games he’s broadcast to Mullins’s inability to hit the big league fastball right now, and if you can’t hit a fastball, you can’t hit in the big leagues.

Maybe down in Norfolk, Mullins, the O’s 13th round pick in the 2015 draft, will be able to build his confidence back up and work on whatever he’s been struggling with at the MLB level, just in a lower-pressure environment. There have always been questions about whether he’d be able to be more than a platoon player at the MLB level, but this season, he wasn’t even hitting right-handed pitchers well.

Wilkerson, 27, was performing well through the early games of Norfolk’s schedule, batting .316/.350/.456 in 15 games. He has bounced all around the infield in his Orioles minor league tenure ever since being drafted in the eighth round in 2014, and they even had him play a couple of games in center field for Norfolk this year. Whether he will or should do so at the MLB level is another story.

With Mullins out and not being replaced on the roster by a natural outfielder, that seems to set Joey Rickard as the regular center fielder until something else changes with the team. O’s fans can cross their fingers that soon one of the center field-capable prospects will emerge in this spot: Austin Hays, Yusniel Diaz, or Ryan McKenna. However, Hays has yet to depart extended spring training for an organized affiliate, and Diaz and McKenna are struggling early with Double-A Bowie. So, for now, it’s Rickard.

Wilkerson could start to pick up playing time at either third base, where Rio Ruiz has just a .654 OPS, or at shortstop, where Rule 5 pick Richie Martin has been struggling mightily, if not quite as much as Mullins, at the plate.