Cedric Mullins is motivated and confident he can have another big year

For a player who had a year where he dealt with multiple groin injuries and finished the year struggling so badly, O’s center fielder Cedric Mullins still had his moments in the 2023 season.

He hit for the cycle May 12, had a five-hit game and also hit two grand slams. On Sept. 18 at Houston, he hit a 425-foot, go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth inning. And he became the first player to both rob and hit a home run in the ninth inning or later of the same game over the last 10 seasons on Aug. 13 at Seattle. That was according to ESPN Stats & Info and marked his first career go-ahead homer in extra innings.

He sure had some big moments and games but still hit for him what was a less than expected .233/.305/.416/.721 for an OPS+ of 101.

He’s now 30 and two years removed from the first 30-30 season (homers and steals) in O’s history in 2021. He produced an .878 OPS then and was ninth in the MVP voting.

But his last two years were not close to that, and he was 0-for-12 in the American League Division Series last October and just 2-for-45 his last 14 games, counting the postseason.

“I try to not be too hard on myself and I know I always put my best foot forward every single day,” Mullins told me recently in Sarasota at spring training. “It’s a matter of learning how I can almost compete with myself in a sense. Like taking 2021, really studying how that year went and how I was able to go about that season and really come to terms with OK, ‘This is what I was doing, how do I get back to doing that?’

“One of the main focuses was like, using the whole field. I got a little pull happy. The dimensions of the field were a little scary for guys (when left field was moved back). Kind of made you adjust in certain ways that may not have benefitted certain people, me being one of them. So, continuing to stay focused on using the whole field and being disciplined at the plate. Being the table setter - that has always been my goal. I feel like when I have that focus, I can help the team in a big way.”

Mullins is right in that he pulled the ball a career-high 46.8 percent last year, compared to 43.9 during his big 2021 season. And he hit to the opposite field a career-low 18.4 percent last season after doing so 24.1 in ’21.

So how does he fix that?

“That’s a good question,” he pondered. “Having a certain approach definitely helps. Knowing I don’t have to do damage all the time. Take my base hits – I think that’s a big one. Being a little more aggressive in the zone definitely helps with that. It’s not me trying to pick one pitch to do the most damage on. I’m able to take my single here, steal a base there, if you have a hustle double take that. All parts of my game being put into one.”

And he also knows that after seeing his performance fall off from his 30-30 year, he has his share of doubters right now.

“I am not going to be everyone’s favorite player. It’s really as simple as that," he stated. "I know the people that have my back – family, friends, those are the people I focus on in terms of building up my confidence and just understanding the process. Day in and day out have a goal in mind, having the focus of what a full season looks like. And being able to look up at the end to say, ‘I put together a really good year.’"

A healthy Mullins has another big year in him, he firmly believes.

“100 percent," he said. "I’m sure there are plenty of people that wouldn’t believe I did that (30-30) in the first place. So, kind of take that and for people who don’t think I can do it again, pretty sure they didn’t think I could the first time. That is what it is. I know I have the ability to do it and I know I have the ability to do it again."

Perhaps an overlooked aspect of the upcoming O's season is that it could be the last together for the starting outfield trio of Austin Hays, Anthony Santander and Mullins. Santander can be a free agent at the end of the 2024 season and one year later, the same is true for Hays and Mullins.

This could be their last ride together as Orioles.

“It’s has definitely popped into my head, that this could be the last go around. At the same time, we want this to be the best one if that is the case. We know how the business works. It is what it is. There is always that hope, that possibility that we stick around for the long haul. But if that is the case, let’s go out with a bang," said Mullins. 

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