Making room for Mateo, Urías producing in spare role, O'Hearn's odd stat, Mountcastle's short home run

PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Orioles are inching closer to a potentially tough roster decision. It won’t be their first or last.

Jorge Mateo is eligible to return from the seven-day concussion injured list on Monday. Connor Norby had his contract selected last Monday. The team could just reverse it and option Norby, who singled yesterday and is 3-for-14 with a home run since his promotion.

The bolder move would be to option Cedric Mullins, who went 0-for-3 with a walk yesterday and is 0-for-24 and 1-for-31.

We don’t know whether the Orioles have reached that point or gotten anywhere near it.

Mullins fell behind two strikes in his first at-bat, worked the count to 2-2 and struck out on a 97.6 mph fastball from Taj Bradley. He struck out on three pitches in the fifth, the last a 97.1 mph fastball, and popped up in the seventh with the count 2-2. He was down 1-2 in the ninth before walking, and he scored on Gunnar Henderson’s three-run shot.

To keep Norby, Mateo and Ramón Urías in the majors would cause the Orioles to lean more to the right. It also might force them to use Mateo in center field against some left-handers, which seemed like the plan in spring training but didn’t materialize.

Mateo has made only two starts in center this season. He’s evolved into the regular second baseman, with Jordan Westburg at third and Urías waiting for a chance to play.

Norby, who celebrated his 24th birthday yesterday, would get some starts at second against lefties, and he’s played the corner outfield in the minors. Beats having him glued to the bench. And the outfield would retain left-handed hitting Colton Cowser, Kyle Stowers and occasionally Ryan O’Hearn, along with switch-hitter Anthony Santander.

The other possibility is that Stowers gets optioned and goes back to receiving everyday at-bats with Triple-A Norfolk. He exited yesterday’s game with a sore right wrist but manager Brandon Hyde didn’t think it was serious.

They won’t keep 14 position players and only 12 pitchers. We know that much.

The Orioles are trusting that Mullins can bust out of this slump. Hyde must play him in order for it to happen. Mullins won’t get in any sort of rhythm while resting.  

The flip side, of course, is that it could just grow worse and perhaps a reset in a low-pressure environment becomes the solution.

Hyde said he started Mullins again yesterday “to try to show him some confidence and try to get him going.” He also pointed out again how Mullins can be a game-changer when he’s firing on all cylinders. Not just with his defense.

“I’m just trying to help him,” Hyde said.

Urías was a late defensive replacement yesterday. He's 8-for-16 with two doubles, two home runs and five RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak.

“It’s really hard, and what Ramón has done the last few weeks has been unbelievable impressive,” said Ryan O’Hearn. “Watching his at-bats (Friday), the double down the left field line, he fouled off, I don’t know, four or five tough pitches before that. Just put together an incredible at-bat. And then to be able to come up with the big hit there, can’t say enough about Ramón., and the mental side of not playing much, kind of grinding. Nobody’s talking about you.

“I can speak from experience that it's a hard place to be. And he showed up every day, he had a great attitude, a great mentality. He’s gotten a chance to play the last few games and he’s obviously a very talented player, somebody who can help us win. Ramón is awesome, and what he’s done the last couple weeks now has been incredible.”

I wrote yesterday that five of O’Hearn’s first eight home runs came when he was behind in the count and he slugged .521 in those situations. He homered again yesterday, but on a 3-2 pitch.

I asked him whether there was an explanation, if it’s tied to the hitting approach taught in the organization.

“That’s really weird,” he replied with a smile. “I don’t know why that’s happening. It’s not how I would draw it up. Maybe I’m swinging too hard in plus counts or something and fouling balls off, but I would like to hit the 3-0, 2-0 homer. But I’ll take them however they come.”

The Orioles began yesterday leading the majors with 98 home runs, five more than the Yankees, and they smacked two more. They were 17th last year with 183.

“I didn’t even know that. I had no idea,” O’Hearn said.

A game of “Stump the Oriole” unfolded without warning or intent.

“I think our offense can get you in multiple ways,” O’Hearn said. “It doesn’t have to be via the home run. But home runs are obviously great. We just try to find a way to win every night. I didn’t know that we led the league in homers but that’s awesome. But that’s not our goal. Our goal is to win games. But I think we have a strong offense and if we can get you in multiple ways, that’s good for us.”

Ryan Mountcastle hit his 11th Friday and fifth in the last seven games, wrapping a sinker around the right field foul pole to break a 2-2 tie.

Jonny DeLuca couldn’t make a leaping grab at the short section of fence attached to the pole.

“I saw it started to go toward that cut-off of the fence and I’m like, ‘Ah, it’s gonna be close,’” Mountcastle recalled. “I’m staring at the ball and Gunnar is on first. I almost passed him.  But it was pretty cool. I saw (DeLuca) sort of tracking toward it. It looked like he was camped and then he got to the wall and was like, ‘Oh,’ and it snuck out.”

The ball traveled 333 feet, the shortest of Mountcastle’s career.

“I don’t know if I can get any shorter than that,” he said, “but it was cool.”

The other note of interest is how it’s the first opposite-field homer for Mountcastle since Aug. 25, 2023 against the Rockies. Mountcastle noted that he’s gone to right-center a few times. This one couldn’t have been more direct to right.

“I don’t really know. I didn’t really think anything of it,” Mountcastle said, taking his turn at the stumping game.

“A 3-1 count, just trying to get a pitch I can hit pretty good, and got under it and tried to stay that way. Tried not to pull off it too much.”

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