Cedric Mullins has moved down to eighth in the Orioles’ order for tonight’s series opener against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards. Ryan McKenna is batting leadoff for the fifth time in his career.
The reasoning is simple.
The splits, which matter with Toronto starting left-hander Yusei Kikuchi. And the composition of the Jays’ bullpen, which is strictly right-handed.
The substitutions should flow when the Jays remove Kikuchi. The Orioles have Rougned Odor and Terrin Vavra on the bench for pinch-hitting purposes.
Mullins is batting .211/.273/.303 in 166 plate appearances against left-handers. McKenna is batting .294/.368/.559 in 38 plate appearances, going 10-for-34 with three doubles and two home runs.
This is the first time in two seasons that Mullins’ name has been written in the lineup below the leadoff spot.
Kukuchi has held left-handed hitters to a .170 average and .577 OPS this season, and a .208 average and .640 OPS during his career.
“Kukuchi is just really tough on left-handed hitters, and Mac’s swinging the bat well against left-handed pitching this year,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “They don’t have a left-hander in their bullpen. It’s really getting the right-handers against Kukuchi as much as possible.”
Austin Hays returns to the lineup after missing the last four games with tightness in his left side.
“I feel good, I feel 100 percent,” he said. “The last two days, really just progression days to swing, throw and hit, and make sure that soreness didn’t bounce back and just make sure my body was ready. Did everything I needed to do the last couple days and the body responded well, so back in there today.”
Hays was available yesterday in an emergency situation.
“I just tried to do whatever I can, cheer on the guys, pick up any little things I can from the dugout,” he said. “It’s tough sitting there, not being able to go out there on the field, but just try to be there for my teammates and cheer them on and do what I can.”
The Orioles handled the injury with the proper amount of caution. Letting him rush back from it could have cost him a significant amount of time.
“He started feeling a lot better yesterday, and last night he swung the bat pretty aggressively in the cage and didn’t feel anything, so we felt comfortable about getting him back in the lineup today,” Hyde said.
“An oblique is something you’ve got to be really careful with. We didn’t want to lose him for a long period of time, so the right thing to do was to give him some days off, which we did, and he feels ready to go today.”
The Orioles will play the Blue Jays 15 times over the last 54 games.
“It’s a really good lineup,” Hyde said. “They’re pretty balanced in that they have a little bit of power, speed, superstars in the middle. It’s a really, really good team that we’ve got to pitch to carefully. I thought we did a pretty good job in Toronto, first series. So weird we’ve only played them four games. It’s the middle of August. I don’t know, the schedule maker, what we’re doing, but it’s a very, very good team. We’ve got to pitch well, and they’re very dangerous.”
There’s really no way to minimize the significance of these 15 games, with the Orioles surprise emergence as wild card contenders.
“Anytime you’re playing against teams that are ahead of you, they’re important games,” Hyde said. “That’s not to take away from any games that are … Every game’s important. We’re in the middle of August and we’re in it. Just want to play well down the stretch, whoever we’re playing against.”
Said Hays: “It’s a divisional series and this is a good team. They can swing it, so we’re just going to go out there and play how we have been. Our pitchers are going to keep doing what they’re doing. We didn’t swing the bat that great yesterday. We’re going to bounce back today and give those guys some runs and have a good series. Go out there and beat those guys.”
Hyde can pull from his experience with the Cubs when they began to contend.
“I think the bottom line what we did really well there is not change anything,” he said. “Continue to make the games that are May 7 as important as the games in the middle of August. Obviously, the standings are different at that time, but you want to keep the same routine, you don’t want to put any more pressure on yourself. You want to stay loose, you want to play the game easy, and I think we’ve done that until this point. Just want to see us continue to play the way we’ve been playing.
“We’re playing good baseball. Yesterday didn’t go our way, but we’ve been playing well. Just because we’re playing a team that is ahead of us in the standings, you don’t want to change anything. We just want to play our game and continue to do what we’re doing.”
The bullpen has a fresh arm with Louis Head joining it from Triple-A Norfolk. He would be the 53rd player used by the Orioles.
Head tossed a scoreless and hitless inning on Saturday.
The Orioles saw him four times last year with the Rays, including one start, and he allowed two runs with six strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.
“He’s got a good arm,” Hyde said.
“He had a nice year last year in Tampa in a role where he got bounced around a lot, Triple-A and the big leagues. He threw the ball really well his last time out in Norfolk, so added another right-hander to our bullpen against these guys. We felt like that was important.”
“Just trying to contribute any way they’ll let me and any way that I can,” Head said. “Really enjoyed the organization that I’ve been a part of so far. Good group of guys, good group of energy, from the coaching staff to the players. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
Head said the Orioles haven’t presented anything new to him. They’re just trying to get him back to where he was last year with the Rays, when he registered a 2.31 ERA and 0.857 WHIP in 27 appearances.
“They’ve definitely got something going on over here,” he said. “You can definitely tell by the way that guys are playing, the energy that they bring. Guys in the bullpen are definitely throwing well, so glad to be a part of it.”
The Rays optioned Head 12 times last year, a record that led to a new rule stating that teams can’t option a player more than five times without exposing him to waivers.
The constant shuffling wasn’t unnerving, but “it could have been,” he said.
“Just putting things in perspective, I wasn’t playing the year before, so just getting an opportunity to go up and down was, extremely grateful for that.”
The Orioles released Norfolk outfielder Dylan Harris.
For the Blue Jays
Whit Merrifield CF
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B
Alejandro Kirk DH
Teoscar Hernández RF
Bo Bichette SS
Matt Chapman 3B
Raimel Tapia LF
Danny Jansen C
Cavan Biggio 2B
Yusei Kikuchi LHP