Cedric Mullins is back. The Orioles activated their center fielder ahead of Saturday afternoon’s game against the Mariners. Mullins has been plugged right back into his customary leadoff spot when facing a right-handed starting pitcher. Let’s hope that, as the meme now goes, they can’t escape him.
Mullins was activated from the injured list after an absence of close to four weeks due to a groin strain he suffered while running to first base in a May 29 loss to the Guardians. This was one of two roster moves the O’s made ahead of Saturday’s game, also recalling Bruce Zimmermann from Triple-A Norfolk to serve as long relief insurance. Logan Gillaspie and Josh Lester were optioned back to Norfolk to make room on the major league roster.
While Mullins was out, the Orioles played to an 11-9 record. This could have been better, but it also could have been worse. The signing of Aaron Hicks, to my great surprise, at least helped stabilize the offense out of the center field spot. Hicks has batted .310/.412/.552 in 19 games since joining the Orioles, with three home runs.
Saturday’s lineup behind starting pitcher Dean Kremer looks like this:
- Cedric Mullins - CF
- Adley Rutschman - C
- Anthony Santander - DH
- Ryan O’Hearn - 1B
- Austin Hays - LF
- Gunnar Henderson - SS
- Aaron Hicks - RF
- Ramón Urías - 3B
- Adam Frazier - 2B
We’ll have to see as time goes along how often the Orioles slide Hicks over to right field, but for today at least, I think the outfield defense is improved by having Hicks’s presence in a corner spot pushing Santander into the designated hitter role. A separate problem is that Santander has hit worse as a DH, although that’s hopefully small sample size stuff that will get smoothed out.
I thought the Orioles would want to have Mullins go for longer than three games on a rehab assignment, especially to make sure that he’s okay running around in the outfield. Only two of those games saw him playing defense. The O’s, it seems, decided differently. Mullins did not play in Norfolk yesterday, so I wonder if he might have even been activated last night if not for being cautious about the probability of wet grass thanks to the rain that caused yesterday’s delayed start.
As we saw on Friday night, the Orioles have some problems that go beyond Mullins’s absence. When a starting pitcher has a short outing and the weak relievers must be relied upon to cover innings, things can get disastrous.
Zimmermann, who sports a 5.70 ERA in 150 career big league innings, is probably not THE answer here, but at least he’s someone who can be called upon to get through four or five innings in a blowout. The Orioles, for reasons escaping me, have not prioritized having a pitcher like that on the roster this season, and at times they’ve really paid for it, including last night.
Most recently, the Orioles had Spenser Watkins around to potentially serve that role, but he ended up being designated for assignment - and now traded to the Astros for cash - in order to clear a 40-man spot for Anthony Bemboom. I don’t get the management of the fringe of the roster this season. It is hard to argue with the O’s actual record of 45-29, but some weird things have happened on the edges while the good players were getting the team to that record.