Reviewing three more Orioles surprises in 2023

The World Series lasted only five games, setting the official offseason into motion faster than usual.

A relatively quiet one for the Orioles is on the verge of getting louder. They won’t sit on the Tucker Davidson and Sam Hilliard waiver claims as their signature moves.

Perhaps Davidson and Hilliard will become a couple of those unexpected happenings that I’ve recounted since the Orioles lost to the eventual-champion Rangers in the Division Series.

To review:

Austin Voth wasn’t impactful. Dillon Tate wasn’t able to pitch. Mike Baumann wasn’t big only in size. Yennier Cano was an All-Star. Danny Coulombe was cool under pressure. Adam Frazier hit for power and stopped.

Here are three more that come to mind.

Ryan O’Hearn hit in the middle of the order.

O'Hearn hitting anywhere seemed like a long shot during the offseason.

But boy, did he hit.

O’Hearn was a finalist for the Major League Baseball Players Association’s American League Comeback Player of the Year Award, which went to White Sox reliever Liam Hendriks. A nice honor with a really long name. Hard to fit it on an inscription.

A friend wondered what O’Hearn was coming back from, and I understood his point. O’Hearn’s best season was his first in 2018, when he batted .262/.353/.597 in 44 games. But he was an unexpected impact player with the Orioles, who purchased his contract from the Royals on Jan. 3.

This is where O’Hearn’s comeback comes into focus.

The Orioles designated him for assignment two days later to create 40-man roster space for Lewin Díaz, who bounced around as if made of rubber. O’Hearn was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk on Jan. 12 after teams passed on him, had his contract selected April 13, was optioned May 5 and recalled four days later when Ramón Urías went on the injured list.

Is that any way to treat a cleanup hitter?

O’Hearn slumped near the end, going 0-for-23 before the playoffs, but he finished with a .289/.322/.480 line, 22 doubles, 14 home runs and 60 RBIs in 368 plate appearances. His 1.2 bWAR counted among many of his career highs.

Because we love obscure notes here, O’Hearn was the first player with three RBIs in his Orioles debut since the immortal Jon Knott on April 17, 2007 in St. Petersburg. O’Hearn is the 10th Oriole with at least five RBIs in his first three games since Manny Machado in 2012.

No one could have anticipated O’Hearn batting fourth in 57 games and making 59 starts at first base. The Orioles weren’t banking on it while removing him from the 40-man roster in January and optioning him in May.

O’Hearn is expected to break camp with the Orioles next spring and resume his role as a platoon player after batting .297/.327/.475 against right-handers and 5-for-26 with a double, triple and two home runs in limited exposure to left-handers.

Cedric Mullins’ curious splits.

Mullins went 0-for-12 in the Division Series and was 2-for-48 in his last 14 games with an at-bat. Two groin/adductor strains that forced him onto the injured list shoulder much of the blame.

“Nagging injuries throughout the year definitely hurts performance," Mullins said after Game 3. "I look back on some of these games and had some hard-hit balls but couldn’t get anything to fall. Had some soft liners, some hard liners, hard ground balls and couldn’t get nothing going. You can call it a slump. I tried to put at-bats together. Felt like I did that pretty well, couldn’t get anything to fall."

Mullins said injuries “100 percent” impacted his at-bats. He added: "My game is in my legs, and for me to have two leg injuries in, basically, back-to-back months takes its toll. Things start to compensate, and other areas start to hurt and get tight.”

Knowing this, every number posted by Mullins must be weighed against the injuries. Won’t explain all of them, especially early in the year, but still requires some adjustments when interpreting.

Now, about those splits …

Mullins abandoned switch-hitting, staying on the left side, and batted .277/.337/.451 against southpaws in 2021. He slashed .299/.372/.558 against right-handers.

Flip ahead to 2022 and Mullins labored against lefties with a .209/.265/.313 line, compared to .279/.340/.441 against right-handers.

Check the 2023 splits and they’re practically even.

Mullins hit .233 with a .726 OPS against right-handers and .233 with a .708 OPS against lefties. A third consecutive season with a noticeable shift.

Joey Krehbiel wasn’t around much.

Krehbiel was an important part of the 2022 bullpen until a fade that made him disappear from the roster on Sept. 28. He appeared in 56 games, ranking fifth on the club, and registered a 3.90 ERA in 57 2/3 innings.

A smart waiver claim from the Rays. Another Orioles pitching success story, though he followed a 2.18 ERA and 0.970 WHIP in the first half with a 6.20 ERA and 1.581 WHIP in the second.

The fade didn’t stop in 2022. Krehbiel allowed eight runs, with four homers, in 7 1/3 innings in spring training and was a late camp cut, but those runs were surrendered in his first two appearances. He strung together six scoreless in a row.

The Orioles designated Krehbiel for assignment May 3 to create 40-man space for catcher Luis Torrens, who was just passing through town. He was outrighted on May 8, had his contract selected on July 30, was optioned Aug. 9 and recalled a day later with Danny Coulombe’s biceps injury.

That move was a matter of convenience for the Orioles. Krehbiel was close and they needed a reliever. They optioned him the next day and recalled Nick Vespi.

Krehbiel appeared in only six games this season, four in September on the expanded roster. He allowed one run and two hits with five strikeouts in five innings.

The Orioles had Krehbiel on their taxi squad for the Division Series but he didn’t pitch. He recorded the save in a 7-6 win over Oklahoma City in the Triple-A championship, though he surrendered a bases-empty home run.

The next challenge was staying on the 40-man through the winter and spring training, but he didn’t make it past Wednesday. He was designated for assignment again and can decline the assignment and become a free agent if he passes through waivers.

Notes: The Orioles have the 24th pick in the 2024 amateur draft.

Former Orioles reliever Dick Drago passed away last week. He was 78.

Drago appeared in 36 games with the Orioles in 1977 after they acquired him from the Angels for reliever Dyar Miller. He registered 3.63 ERA and 1.613 WHIP in 39 2/3 innings.

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