O's rotation has had its recent struggles

Jordan Lyles throw gray

The Orioles starting rotation, which got off to a strong start this year in the season’s first few weeks, now has been springing some leaks in the last few.

It is proving to be a challenge for a team that has gotten a strong performance all year from its bullpen but is trying to keep that bullpen fresh at a time when they have to cover so many innings.

Last night, for the eighth straight game and for the 14th time in 15 games, the Orioles did not get a quality start. Right-hander Jordan Lyles struggled for the third game in a row. In the 7-5 loss at Kansas City, he went five innings, allowing eight hits and six runs and he gave up a pair of two-run homers. Right after the Orioles scored three in the top of the fifth to tie the game at 4-4, Lyles allowed a walk and a two-run homer to Carlos Santana to begin the last of the fifth.

Over his past three games, Lyles has an ERA of 8.16, allowing 13 earned runs over 14 1/3 innings. These three games followed a two-start stretch on May 18 and 23 versus the Yankees where he threw 106 and 117 pitches in back-to-back outings.

While Lyles did throw 96 pitches and he has thrown 90 or more nine times now, his ERA has gone from 4.10 to 4.97 these past three games.

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O's game blog: The series opener at Kansas City

lyles delivers fenway black

The Orioles begin a two-city eight-game road trip tonight at Kauffman Stadium against the host Royals. The Orioles were rained out at home versus the Cubs last night, so they went 3-4 on what was scheduled to be an eight-game homestand.

The Orioles went 1-2 against the Mariners and Guardians to begin the homestand before hitting five homers in Tuesday’s 9-3 win over the Cubs. The second game of the series was washed out. The Orioles are now 15-15 at home.

The Orioles are just 9-18 on the road this year but went 4-4 on their last trip to New York and Boston, going 1-2 at Yankee Stadium and 3-2 at Fenway Park. The Birds are 3-5 in road series.

The Orioles went 7-14 in April and 14-16 in May and now are 3-3 in June.

Kansas City begins play tonight with the worst record in the majors at 18-37 (.327). The Royals were shut out in the first two games of their most recent series with the Blue Jays by scores of 8-0 and 7-0 before winning 8-4 last night at home. The Royals have still lost three of four games, eight of 10 and 15 of their past 19. They were 14-22 on May 18 before going 4-15 since that date. They are 10-19 at Kauffman Stadium.

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Wall ball: The homers are becoming more plentiful at Camden Yards

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When the 2022 season began and the Orioles and their opponents were scoring so few runs at Oriole Park, we all seemed to figure this was due to the moving back of the left-field wall. It was tougher to hit homers and now it was simply going to be much tougher to score runs in Baltimore.

And this is what team officials wanted, right? A park that would play much more fair for offense and stop giving up popups into left field that seemed to carry out for cheap homers.

Some of the scores reflected that thinking and led us to think that way about the new-look ballpark. In those first six games at Camden Yards, the Orioles won 2-0, lost 5-4, won 4-2, won 2-1 in 11 innings, lost 5-2 and won 5-0. Not even the Yankees could put up big offense here, held to six runs in three games while losing two of three in their first series in the park.

They were not happy. Are they ever?

I digress. But the scores have been very different in some recent games in the ballpark. Games where the Orioles won by scores that came by 9-6, 8-6, 7-6, 9-2, 5-4 and 9-3.

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O's game blog: Wrapping up quick series with the Cubs (game rained out)

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The Orioles (24-33) and Chicago Cubs (23-33) wrap up this quick two-game series tonight at Oriole Park after Baltimore hit five home runs and won the series opener 9-3 last night.

The Orioles tied a season high with the five longballs. They earlier hit five on May 5 versus Minnesota. Last night Cedric Mullins and Trey Mancini went back-to-back to start the last of the first, and it was the fourth time this year the Orioles hit back-to-back homers.

This marked the first time the Orioles tagged back-to-back longballs to start a game since Sept. 7, 2017 at Minnesota, when Seth Smith and Manny Machado did it. It was the first time O’s batters had hit back-to-back home runs to lead off a game at Oriole Park since May 10, 2012 in the opening game of a doubleheader versus Texas. Ryan Flaherty and J.J. Hardy did it then.

When the Orioles hit just four homers in their first 11 home games of the 2022 season, we had to wonder how much more difficult it would be to hit homers now that the outfield wall was moved back in left and left-center. But now the Orioles are bashing more and more homers in Oriole Park. They have hit nine in their past three games and 13 in their last six games in Baltimore.

Through last night’s game, the Orioles as a team have hit 31 homers in 30 home games with a slugging percentage of .375 and .678 OPS. They have hit 25 homers in 27 road games with a slugging percentage of .364 and OPS of .656.

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Jorge Lopez uses four-pitch mix and is thriving in the ninth inning

gettyimages-1397632992-594x594 Jorge Lopez Orange Jersey

To put it in his own words, Orioles right-hander Jorge Lopez, enjoying sustained Major League success for the first time at 29, is “letting it rip” and he’s having a blast closing games and being around a young team he said has had great energy from the start of spring training.

Lopez, who went 3-14 with a 6.07 ERA last year, mostly as a starter, now is 3-3 with seven saves and a 1.00 ERA. He has a 0.983 WHIP and his fastball velocity, which was 95.2 mph as a starter, is now 97.8 mph on average out of the bullpen.

And he has done some heavy lifting too, getting three saves of more than one inning, including a four-out save on Saturday versus Cleveland. Right now Lopez is up for whatever it takes in the late innings.

“I mean, every game you have to prepare for, no matter what. It doesn’t matter,” he said. “You have to be prepared for whatever situation. That is why we are in the bullpen, so, from what I have been learning, it’s just one more out. It makes it a little more difficult, but it is not something bigger than when I was a starter. There I might have to face 20 or more batters, so being able to just come out and hold the other team and have the chance to get the win is huge. It’s really huge and important for us to show what we can do and for me the first time being in this position is a good time to just let it rip and see what’s going on.

“So far it’s been really good. I’ve been feeling extremely good, my body and physically and mentally. So just keep going.”

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O's game blog: Kyle Bradish faces Cubs in series opener

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The Orioles' homestand continues tonight as the club welcomes the Chicago Cubs to Baltimore to start a two-game series. The Orioles (23-33) are 2-4 on this homestand with series losses to Seattle and the Cleveland Guardians. Each time they lost the third and deciding game. They are now 6-4 in rubber match games.

Three of the last four O's games were decided by a run, and they went 1-2 in those games. They are 7-10 in one-run games for the season.

The Orioles scored just 11 runs and had only 13 hits in 91 at-bats (batting .143) in three games versus Cleveland pitching. They hit two doubles and four homers and went 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position in that series.

Tonight is the first game between these clubs since the defending 2016 World Series champion Cubs team visited Charm City in 2017. The Cubs swept Baltimore in three games from July 14-16. The Orioles travel to Wrigley Field for another two-game set from July 12-13. Tonight's game marks only the 13th match-up between the two teams - who first met in 2003 - with the Cubs holding the advantage with a 9-3 record.

There are several in the Baltimore organization with ties to the Cubs.

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A closer look at the pitching success for the Aberdeen IronBirds

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The Orioles high Single-A Aberdeen affiliate continues to roll with a record of 33-16 (.673) which is the best mark in the South Atlantic League and the second-best among 30 high Single-A teams throughout the minors.

The IronBirds have a roster dotted with some big names and one that features two of the O’s top 10 rated prospects in outfielder Colton Cowser and infielder Coby Mayo.

Lesser known with players more unheralded and mostly unranked is the Aberdeen pitching staff that has produced a team ERA of 3.76 to rank fourth in the league. In May when Aberdeen was 17-7, its pitchers ERA of 3.21 ranked first in the league.

I recently talked with Aberdeen pitching coach Forrest Herrman about some of his “length” pitchers - those that are getting the most innings whether that comes as a starter or out of the bullpen. This group has done a strong job all year for Aberdeen.

Herrmann also is new to the Orioles, in his first year with the organization. He was the Seattle Mariners pitching strategist for their entire organization in 2019 and was pitching coach for the Cincinnati Reds at Single-A Daytona Beach in 2021. He has his own youthful look going and could easily be mistaken for a pitcher on the team and not a coach. But he’s also got plenty he brings to the organization and he has past ties to both Driveline Baseball and to the P3 Premier Pitching Performance center in Missouri where he spent some time working with current O’s pitcher John Means.

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O's promote Henderson and Westburg to Triple-A, plus new rosters

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They are moving on up. The Orioles today promoted infielders Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk. Both will now get tested at the minor leagues’ highest level, one step below the big leagues in Baltimore.

They are expected to be with the Tides (26-28) for the opener of their series Tuesday night at Nashville.  

Henderson, 20, is having a huge year and is now ranked No. 37 by Baseball America in an updated top 100 prospects list. MLBPipeline.com has him at No. 46.

In 47 games with Bowie he batted .312/.452/.573/.1.025 with 11 doubles, three triples, eight homers, 35 RBIs and 12 steals in 14 attempts, and scored 41 runs. He has made remarkable improvement in plate discipline and has walked more than he has struck out, 41 to 38.

The Orioles' second-round pick in 2019 out of an Alabama high school, Henderson will turn 21 on June 29.

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More Mike Elias on Rodriguez, DL Hall and other topics

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When O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias updated reporters Sunday about baseball’s top pitching prospect, Grayson Rodriguez, he noted that the right-hander is not doing anything with his mechanics that made him more likely to develop the lat issue that has now sidelined him.

But Elias did note one thing Rodriguez does that might make him more likely to have such an issue.

“I don’t think that he is doing anything particularly wrong mechanically that would have contributed to this. But, it is kind of a verified thing that very hard throwers like him have more lat recruitment, generally, in their deliveries," Elias said. "So, you do see this injury more with guys that throw in the upper 90s across baseball. If you recall, (Triple-A Norfolk lefty) DL Hall had something similar in 2019, and he’s another guy that throws hard. So, not a surprise.”

Elias confirmed Sunday that Rodriguez does have a Grade 2 lat strain but mentioned he hopes Rodriguez might return by September, although the Orioles still can’t exactly pinpoint his return. It could be sooner, but it also could be later. One thing that is all but set: Elias expects Rodriguez to begin the 2023 season in the Baltimore rotation.  

He could even pitch in the big leagues later this year if the rehab goes well.

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O's can't catch up after early homer and lose to Cleveland in series finale

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After he had thrown minor league rehab outings of two, three and four innings, the Orioles knew that right-hander Dean Kremer would likely not pitch deep into today’s game. But after the first inning today, he did throw well in his 18th career major league start.

But a three-run homer in the first on this sunny afternoon put him and the Orioles behind early and they could never catch up as they lost 3-2 to Cleveland in the rubber match game of this series.

The Orioles fall to 23-33 overall, to 6-4 in rubber-match games, to 2-4 on this homestand and to 14-15 at home for the season.

Second baseman Andrés Giménez hit 1-0 changeup to second baseman out of the park for his seventh homer of the year, and that three-run blast would put Cleveland ahead five batters into today's game. Kremer’s outing began with a strikeout before Ahmed Rosario ripped a 107 mph single, and with two outs, Owen Miller walked to bring up Giménez.

Kremer's changeup then found too much of the plate and Giménez drilled it 372 feet into the right-center seats for the lead as Cleveland improved to 24-25 overall with its fifth win in the last six games.

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O's game blog: The series finale against Cleveland

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The Orioles are set for another rubber match game today, this one with the Cleveland Guardians in the third and deciding game of their series at Oriole Park. Cleveland won 6-3 behind Shane Bieber on Friday night as their pitchers fanned 15 Orioles batters. And Baltimore hit three homers, accounting for all its runs on Saturday in a 5-4 win.

Austin Hays hit No. 6 in the third inning and his three-run shot gave the Orioles a 4-2 lead. Trey Mancini homered in the first inning to tie the game at 1-1 and Rougned Odor’s solo shot in the fourth extended the Baltimore lead to 5-2. The Orioles had just four hits for the game.

The Orioles are now 2-3 on this homestand, which has three games left, and 14-14 at home for the year. They are 5-5 over their past 10 games, 9-8 in the last 17 and 17-18 over their past 35 games.

Today the Orioles will play their 10th rubber match game of the year and they are 6-3:

April 13, lose 4-2 to Milwaukee.

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Mike Elias updates on Rodriguez, Hyde talks about Kremer

Grayson

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said today that baseball's top pitching prospect, right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, could return this year to pitch in September. He added that whether that happens or not, the club is very much expecting that Rodriguez will begin the 2023 season in the Orioles rotation from opening day on.

Rodriguez, who is 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA in 11 starts with Triple-A Norfolk, left his outing Wednesday after throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings on two hits. He was closing in on his major league debut when he walked off the mound with the trainer in what was described last night as a lat issue.

Elias confirmed the same today and said that, after additional medical review, Rodriguez has been diagnosed with a grade II lat strain.

“He’s going to, basically, have to rest and build back up, ramp back up, and it’s going to be a process that takes at least several weeks,” Elias told reporters in the Orioles dugout. “There is probably a lot of variability to the exact amount of weeks this takes to get back out to competition. It just kind of depends how it goes. He’s feeling really good right now, so that’s a good sign. But statistically, you look at these professional pitchers and I think that the bull's eye right now is on the month of September, when we would have the option of getting him back out on the field. We’ll see. He may beat that timeline, it may take longer than that.

“Whether or not we decide to pitch him again in September, or just let the season end, it’s going to be TBD (to be determined). So we’ll see. The good news is this is an injury we have a very, very high degree of confidence that it’s going to heal. And he’ll back to himself in no time. And at the very least put himself in position to join our rotation out of spring training. That’s our hope. We’re looking forward to getting him back to work. He’s a tough kid and a very hard worker, so I expect he’s going to do very well.”

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Vavra close to Triple-A return in pursuit of big league dream

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It was the fifth inning of a game for Triple-A Norfolk at home on April 20 versus Durham. Terrin Vavra, playing center field that night, lined an RBI single to right to give the Tides a 3-0 lead.

Added to the Orioles 40-man roster over the winter, he was off to a good start for the Tides, batting over .300 through his first 13 Triple-A games. Then came another hit. Now that he was on the 40-man, maybe that first call to the big leagues would not be that far away.

“Felt like I was seeing the ball pretty well, our team was winning and we were having a lot of fun,” Vavra remembered yesterday during an interview at high Single-A Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium. “As I was rounding first on a ball I was going to try and go to second on, my hamstring grabbed on me. Had a Grade II strain in there that took some time to heal. We wanted to make sure that we gave it the adequate space to heal so it is not something that lingers or comes back.”

So Vavra has played this week in minor league rehab games with Aberdeen and last night played nine innings for the first time this week. He said he expects to rejoin Norfolk for its series beginning Tuesday at Nashville.

Vavra dealt with some back issues last season that limited him to 40 games at Double-A Bowie, where he posted an .818 OPS. The Colorado Rockies' third round pick out of the University of Minnesota in 2018, he was acquired by the Orioles on Aug. 30, 2020 in the deal that sent pitcher Mychal Givens to the Rockies. The O's received Vavra along with Tyler Nevin and a player to be named, who turned out to be young Dominican outfielder Mishael Deson.

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O's game blog: Tyler Wells faces Cleveland at Camden Yards

Tyler wells pitching white

Now 1-3 on an eight-game homestand, the Orioles will look to even their series with Cleveland at a win each today as they host the Guardians at Oriole Park. 

Cleveland right-hander Shane Bieber took a no-hitter to the sixth and a one-hit shutout to the eighth last night as Cleveland won 6-3 in the series opener. The Guardians took an early 5-0 lead on lefty Bruce Zimmermann on Friday.

The Orioles (22-32) are now 13-14 at home, 4-5 in their past nine games and 16-18 over the last 34 games. Cleveland (23-24) has won four in a row by a combined 25-9 score, winning three in a row versus Kansas City before the series opener in Baltimore. 

Cleveland pitchers have a team ERA of 2.55 the past 16 games and their rotation ERA is 2.78, with 13 quality starts in that span.

The O's rotation has struggled recently, with just one quality start the past 11 games. And that was by today's starter, right-hander Tyler Wells (2-4, 3.71 ERA), who pitched six scoreless innings his last time out.

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O's offense slowed as they dropped the series-opener to Cleveland

Austin Hays batting orange

Cleveland right-hander Shane Bieber was a pitcher on a roll when he took the mound at Camden Yards last night. He was still rolling when he left the same mound in the last of the eighth. He flirted with a no-hitter into the O’s sixth before Trey Mancini singled but the Orioles lost the series opener to Cleveland to fall to 1-3 on this eight-game homestand.

Two runs would score after Bieber left the game as the Orioles rallied in the eighth on Mancini’s two-run double and Anthony Santander’s RBI single. But he got the 6-3 win, allowing just three hits over seven innings with two walks and 11 strikeouts.

Bieber had posted an ERA of 1.71 his previous three starts and the Orioles found out why on Friday night when he got 23 whiffs on 52 swings against his pitches. He got 14 whiffs on 24 swings versus his slider.

Bieber's 11 strikeouts were his most since he recorded 12 on May 27, 2021 at Detroit. Last night marked his 16th game with 11-or-more strikeouts since he debuted in 2018, the sixth-most among MLB pitchers during that span. He has allowed three-or-fewer earned runs in 34 consecutive road starts, marking the longest such streak since earned runs became an official statistic in 1913. And Bieber is 18-8 with a 2.26 ERA during that span. So, yep, pretty impressive.

Mancini has reached base safely in nine straight games and is batting .382/.462/.647 (13-for-34) with four doubles, a triple, a home run, six RBIs, four walks, and seven runs scored during the streak. And he has also reached safely in 26 of his last 27 games since May 8 and leads the O’s with 19 multi-hit games.

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O's game blog: The series opener against Cleveland

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The next team to hit town on the current Orioles homestand is the Cleveland Guardians. The Orioles and Guardians begin a three-game series at the Yard tonight that continues on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Cleveland (22-24) got off to a 7-5 start to its season, but has gone 15-19 since April 22. Most recently though, the Guardians swept three from Kansas City, winning by 7-3 and 8-3, and then 4-0 on Wednesday night. Cleveland is in second place in the American League Central and is 4 ½ games behind the Minnesota Twins.

Cleveland is 11-16 on the road, 3-4 versus American League East teams, and is 7-10 over its past 17 games.

Cleveland only ranks 10th in the American League in rotation ERA (4.09) and seventh in overall team ERA (3.73) in the league, but has been getting outstanding pitching lately. Over its past 15 games, the Guardians overall ERA is 2.52 and its rotation ERA is 2.80 in that span.

Cleveland’s José Ramírez, a three-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger, is having another big year. He is batting .292 with a 1.025 OPS to go with 13 homers and 52 RBIs. He ranks first in the AL in RBIs, and no one else is close. New York’s Aaron Judge is second with 39 RBIs. Ramírez is second in slugging (.632) and OPS. His whiff rate of 11.2 is third lowest among qualifying hitters in the league.

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The Pérez/Holt connection, a new top 100 and other notes

Cionel Perez White Jersey

Last night was not his best effort – lefty Cionel Pérez walked two of the three batters he faced in the Seattle sixth inning – but overall he has had a big year for the Orioles this season out of the bullpen.

A waiver claim from the Cincinnati Reds in November, Pérez entered that outing last night having allowed just one run and 15 hits over 16 1/3 innings with seven walks to 17 strikeouts. His fastball is averaging 96 mph and he touched 97.5 in the game Wednesday night when he threw 1 1/3 scoreless and was the winning pitcher against the Mariners.

But he gave up one run in just 1/3 of an inning last night and his ERA increased to 1.08.

Before last night’s game Pérez mentioned that one reason he has had a nice comfort zone with the Orioles is his previous relationship with O’s pitching coach Chris Holt. When both were in the Houston organization, Pérez had Holt for his pitching coach when he was with high Single-A Buies Creek in the 2017 season.

“He has been a big help,” Pérez said through O’s interpreter Brandon Quinones about Holt before Thursday’s game. “Now that we are both here together he keeps me in check with my movement on the ball and if something is off with my delivery, he lets me know that and we work together with getting on the same page. Plus we are a big team here within the bullpen and if anyone notices something is off with another pitcher in delivery or whatever, we let each other know.”

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O's game blog: O's look for series win in finale against Seattle

Ryan McKenna Austin Hays jump black road

The Orioles have fared quite well in rubber match games this season and hope that trend continues when they wrap up a series with the Mariners at Camden Yards. The Mariners won 10-0 Tuesday night and the Orioles hit four homers and won 9-2 last night. So the winner tonight takes the series.

The Orioles are 6-2 this year in rubber match games:

April 13, lost 4-2 to Milwaukee.

* April 17, beat New York Yankees 5-0.

* May 1, beat Boston 2-1 (10).

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Connection on farm with Holt paying off now for Cionel Pérez

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Orioles lefty reliever Cionel Pérez, who is having a big year out of the bullpen, was a member of the high Single-A Buies Creek Astros in 2017. He pitched in just 25 1/3 innings for that team, but his pitching coach was Chris Holt. The same guy who is Baltimore's pitching coach now.

Pérez remembered today that Holt helped him, and having Holt here made his transition to his new team easier this year. He made the Baltimore roster out of spring training this year after the Orioles claimed him, via waivers, from the Reds in November.

“He has been a big help,” Pérez said today through O’s interpreter Brandon Quinones about Holt. “Now that we are both here together he keeps me in check with my movement on the ball and if something is off with my delivery, he lets me know that and we work together with getting on the same page. Plus we are a big team here within the bullpen and if anyone notices something is off with another pitcher in delivery or whatever, we let each other know.”

I asked Pérez if Holt had a hand in bringing him to Baltimore?

“In reality I don’t know if he played any part in the Orioles getting me, but I’m really thankful and grateful that I’m here. Especially with the year I’m having and the team is having a lot of fun. Been a great year so far,” he said.

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Amid homers, Mullins had a good night that could prove to be big

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Sure the Orioles mashed four homers last night in a 9-2 win over Seattle and sure they even crushed a couple of balls over the left-field wall. That seems to make news around here these days.

But maybe the biggest development for the Orioles came on a single and double. Because they came off the bat of center fielder Cedric Mullins. He set a very high bar for himself going 30-30 last season and winning unanimously the Most Valuable Oriole award.

But Mullins was hitting just .169 with an OPS of .410 his previous 16 games, going 11-for-65, when game time on Wednesday rolled around. Then lefty Robbie Ray made Mullins look bad in the last of the first when he chased a slider down and struck out.

His average had dropped to .236 and his OPS to .662.

But when I interviewed Mullins about his offense before the game last night I found a player not stressing or pressing. One still confident and one feeling that a couple of very good swings he had put on balls that were caught on Tuesday night was going to be a good sign for him.

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