Continuing to make the most of his second chance with the Orioles, outfielder Aaron Hicks found himself back in the O’s starting lineup on Saturday afternoon against Seattle. That was big for him because, on the day Cedric Mullins returned to the team, he was both still on the roster and still getting at-bats.
In 28 games this year with the Yankees, Hicks’ OPS was .524. In 20 games with the Orioles through yesterday, it is .984. He had three multi-hit games with New York and has six with Baltimore.
And Hicks came up big again for the Orioles in the last of the sixth, hitting a go-ahead homer 426 feet to center for a 4-3 lead. That lead would not hold up, but on Ryan McKenna's two-run walk-off homer in the 10th the Orioles would beat the Mariners 6-4.
The Orioles improved to 46-29 and moved to 4 1/2 games back of Tampa Bay, which lost.
So Mullins was back, but Hicks was still in the starting nine.
“I mean, I feel like I’ve been playing well enough to, you know, have a spot on the team and in the starting lineup,” Hicks said before Saturday’s game. “Feel like I’ve been consistent with my approach. Able to get hits and drive guys in. Now it’s just in a different field, right field. We’ll see how that goes.”
With pregame rain yesterday, Hicks, who was originally slated to start in right field, was later moved back to center. Mullins, originally in center, was moved to the DH spot. But Hicks is aware that, with Mullins now back, he will be seeing more of right field.
For his career, he has made 636 starts in center field, 104 in left and 69 in right, but none at that spot since 2017.
“It is definitely an adjustment,” he said. “I have not played too much right in a while. It’s about getting reps and getting comfortable out there.”
And the Orioles have a top-notch defensive trio that they can deploy left to right of Hays, Mullins and Hicks.
“Of course, yeah. That becomes a fast outfield. Hard to run on," Hicks said. "Guys will be getting to balls pretty easily.”
As for his offense, with the Orioles, Hicks is striking out less and hitting the ball harder more often. His strikeout rate dropped from 26.3 with New York to 17.7 as an Oriole. His hard-hit rate jumped from 22.9 percent to 37.6.
“I’ve been feeling really good at the plate," Hicks said before hitting his fourth homer as an Oriole, his fifth of the year. "Feel like I’ve been making solid contact and starting to hit balls for more power now. Feels awesome. I felt like I had this and never really got the opportunity, and now that opportunity, I’m starting to really show it. Feels good."
Hicks said he was “super excited” to share the field with Mullins upon his return.
“We’ve been talking a lot since I’ve gotten here," Hicks said. "Now to be able to finally play in the field with him will be fun. Seen him on the other side of the field a lot, and he took a lot of my hits away. Glad to be on the other side of that.”
A nice bounceback win: When the Orioles lost by 12 runs Friday - their biggest margin in a loss in a game this year - winning Saturday seemed pretty important. And McKenna's blast got that done.
It was the Orioles' fourth walk-off win of the year and second via a home run. Adley Rutschman hit a walk-off blast April 13 versus Oakland. McKenna produced his first career walk-off hit yesterday, and it went the distance. He hit a 95 mph fastball out to right field, and it went 393 feet with an exit velocity of 105.9 mph.
Manager Brandon Hyde threw props McKenna's way after the game, but not just for ending that game with a home run.
"When you're with him every day, you really appreciate how much energy he brings to our team," Hyde said. "Just the kind of person he is is phenomenal, and he's a great athlete that has helped us the last couple years in a lot of ways. So fun to watch him get this moment today, and he's earned it."
Winning teams seem to produce unlikely heroes some nights. The Orioles have this year, and McKenna is the latest.
Right-hander Mike Baumann had come up big in the top of the 10th, stranding the placed runner at second base by getting a groundout and then strikeouts of Julio Rodriguez and Ty France. He was the winning pitcher and is 5-0.
Baumann threw just 10 pitches, and his four-seamer averaged 96.6 mph. He got two swings and misses on three offerings at his knuckle-curve.
The Orioles recorded their 26th comeback win Saturday and improved to a majors-best 20-9 in games following a loss.
The Orioles have been mashing some homers lately, hitting nine in the last four games and 21 in the past 12. In that 12-game span they have hit two or more homers in a game eight times.