Hyde on the lineup, Mullins on AL East games as Toronto series begins

TORONTO – No doubt tonight’s Orioles lineup is matchup-based as the club tonight faces Toronto lefty Yusei Kikuchi (5-0, 3.89 ERA) in the opener of a three-game series at Toronto. It starts an important six-game road trip for the Orioles against the Blue Jays and Yankees.

In facing Kikuchi, manager Brandon Hyde had definite reasons for putting Cedric Mullins back atop the order, even with a left-on-left matchup, and for inserting Joey Ortiz at third base.

Ortiz has played 30 big league innings at second base and 18 at shortstop, but none at third, where he will play tonight. He has made eight minor league starts at the hot corner: four in 2021, two in 2022 and two this year with Triple-A Norfolk.

“Well, he got a little bit of time there at Norfolk, played there in college, which is way different then playing there (now)," Hyde said. "I love his defense. I think he can play anywhere on the field, honestly, and he feels comfortable over there. Adding a right-handed bat against Kikuchi. And want (Adam) Frazier in there, and it’s kind of where it fit.”

The Orioles hit Kikuchi well last year, when he went 2-3 with an 8.10 ERA against them and allowed seven homers in 16 2/3 innings with an OPS against of 1.078. Cedric Mullins went 2-for-7 with a triple against Kikuchi in 2022, and has a batting average of .298 and a .953 OPS versus southpaws this year.

“I like the at-bats that Mullins had taken against Kikuchi last year, and that puts (Austin) Hays in the middle of our order," Hyde said. "Hays has done a great job against left-handed pitching, especially this year. So put him in the middle of the order, and Ced has taken good at-bats off Kikuchi last year." 

Hyde cautioned that just because the O’s hit Kikuchi last year and he has a 6.37 career ERA against Baltimore doesn’t ensure that will carry over tonight.

“He’s definitely different this year,” Hyde said of the lefty, who is 2-0 with a 2.87 ERA at home this season. “Stuff is similar, but command is much improved. I feel like last year, high pitch count, we got ahead on the count a lot against him. This year he is throwing a lot more strikes, and that is why he is having a better year. Pitching deeper in the game and is 5-0. Strike-throwing ability has improved.”

The Orioles have only played four series against American League East teams so far this season, going 6-6. Does the schedule, which now has fewer AL East games, make the ones they do play more meaningful?

“There are fewer games, but we still play them 13 times,” said Hyde. “So, you don’t want to make or break one game. But yeah, it does mean a little more, especially the way all five of us are, the way we are in the standings. Everyone over .500, competing and five good teams, so when you play each other it might mean a bit more.”

The Orioles beginning tonight will play back-to-back series within the division for the first time this year. It’s a challenging six-game road trip to Toronto and Yankee Stadium.

But the Orioles might say the challenge is on the other foot too, since the Blue Jays and Yankees begin play tonight looking up at them in the standings.

The reduced schedule of division games has found the Orioles having played just 27 percent of their games within the division, a division that features five teams right now playing .545 ball or better. That percentage, which would get you first place in the AL Central as it stands now, is only good for last place in the AL East.

Center fielder Cedric Mullins said he actually likes some of the schedule changes for 2023.

“My opinion, it’s been pretty cool,” he said this afternoon in the visitors' clubhouse. “Just being able to play different teams on a more consistent basis. It makes the games against our own division that much more intense. Think that brings a lot of excitement to when you play your own division. Think a lot of our guys are enjoying the process of going around and seeing different stadiums that they haven’t been to.”

To this point, with the second-best record in the majors and a second-place standing in the division, the Orioles are more than holding their own in the rugged AL East.

“I think even last year we made a statement, saying that we are competitive in this league, not only within our division, but the entire league in general," Mullins said. "Think teams have to come with a really good plan against us to have success. These games are going to be dogfights and it’s not going to be easy. But we have a really strong squad to come out with a win.”

Tides roster news: The O’s Triple-A Norfolk Tides club today released pitchers Ryan Conroy, Cole Uvila and Phoenix Sanders. The club activated pitcher Ofreidy Gómez from the injured list and added new shortstop Robbie Glendinning, whom the Orioles acquired just yesterday. Catcher Mark Kolozsvary joined the Orioles taxi squad.


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