Mullins makes most of his latest opportunity

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Manager Brandon Hyde has tried to cure Cedric Mullins by feeding him a steady diet of at-bats. He’s sat Mullins in consecutive games to provide a reset. He’s studied matchups and made decisions to show his center fielder that confidence isn’t lost, but also, games must be won.

Mullins, in turn, has hit early, watched video and consumed every ounce of data until he’s stuffed.  

No one is outworking him. Every player is outhitting him. But Mullins finally had his day in the dome.

Leading off the top of the second inning yesterday, Mullins swung at a first-pitch slider from Zack Littell and flied to center field. He made the turn around first base and jogged across the infield to the visiting dugout. An all-too-familiar site for a player who was batting .170/.221/.301.

Up first again in the fifth inning, Mullins ripped a splitter into right field at 102 mph after falling behind 0-2 in the count and taking a fastball outside the zone. A single that seemed like a life preserver for a guy with the sinking stats who was 0-for-25 and 1-for-32.

By pure coincidence, Mullins also led off seventh and tripled to right-center field for his first multi-hit game since May 23. He barreled a sinker from Garrett Cleavinger, winning the left-on-left battle. The bench erupted and Mullins finally could make the sprinkler gesture.

“I think Ced’s looked really good at the plate, especially the last couple weeks,” said Adley Rutschman, who hit a grand slam and drove in a career-high six runs in a 9-2 win. “Baseball’s a tough game because it’s just unlucky at times because he’s been hitting the ball really hard, at good angles, and a lot of line outs.

“Everyone knows it’s just a matter of time. He looks really good at the plate, so nice to see some of those fall today.”

The game swung back to Mullins one last time in the eighth and he popped up to catcher Ben Rortvedt with runners on the corners. But the Orioles loaded the bases and Rutschman dashed any Rays hopes of a comeback.

Mullins probably wouldn’t have been in the lineup except Austin Hays felt soreness in his ribs again after playing the previous day. Kyle Stowers was unavailable due to right wrist discomfort.

A door opened for Mullins and he finally was rewarded for his effort.

“Goes without saying that he’s obviously in the cage working hard every day, he’s out there for early hitting, and you want it to be one game that ignites it, but when you’re going through a tough stretch, there’s no promises of how long or short it’s going to take,” co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller said earlier in the day.

“It’s one of those things, you keep grinding at it. When you go in that cave and it’s dark, you don’t know how long you’re going to be in there, but it makes you look at things a little bit differently, and if you stay in there long enough you’re usually going to find the way that comes out on the other side. He’s in it right now, he’s working hard and we’re doing everything we can. And hopefully we get out of there soon.”

Slumps like this one burrow into a player’s head, which only worsen it.

“It would be easy to go in and say here’s what’s wrong with your swing,” Fuller said. “We have all the tools to look at his swing and say, ‘Here’s what’s going well when it was going well, here’s where you’re off.’ But the mental component is huge. You want these guys to have confidence but it’s hard to have confidence when you’re not having results. The best way to get that confidence back is to take action every day, prove it to yourself in small ways until it shows up on the field.”

Mullins conceded that there’s more to his struggles than just the physical side of it.

“It's been tough, but being that it's a long season, it's a matter of getting your mind right,” he said. “Once you feel like your mechanics are in sync for the most part, it is a matter of getting the mental down and trying not to put too much on yourself. Go out there and play the game."

It became a little more relaxing after the single.

“Solid contact,” he said. “I think in general that frees me up a little bit. The triple, (Jonny DeLuca) came close to making the play. Just making progress to where it’s a consistent barrel felt good.”

DeLuca raced into right-center field, dived for the ball and almost caught it. Way too close for Mullins’ comfort.

“It feels like it stays up for a long time when he has a chance at it,” Mullins said.

Hyde will keep picking his spots with Mullins, another start possible tonight depending on Hays, Stowers and the numbers. Jorge Mateo won’t be reinstated from the concussion injured list, which likely keeps the roster intact.

“Hyder’s done a great job of, here’s the day, it’s maybe not a great matchup, here’s the days you can go back out,” Fuller said. “The game is the ultimate test to see what’s working, what’s not working. We have a pretty clear idea of his timing and mechanics, but that mental component being out there every day and having to struggle and go through it and find the answers is key.”

Mullins appreciates the support from Hyde, who could have buried the former All-Star, Silver Slugger winner and owner of the only 30-home run, 30-steal season in club history. The lines of communication never closed between them.

“There’s communication involved with that, so he’s let me know his thoughts on the situation,” Mullins said. “Putting me out there, just creating an opportunity, I was able to take advantage today. Really get my mind right and take advantage the next time.”


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