Cedric Mullins talked in spring training about trying to concentrate on the middle of the field, an approach that makes him a much larger threat at the plate.
He’s still trying, and the improvements are loud.
The exhibition numbers illustrated his struggles: five hits in 30 at-bats with 11 strikeouts.
Mullins began last night’s game with only three hits in 16 at-bats, and his nine strikeouts led the American League. But he lined a two-run single into center field in the Orioles’ home opener, with an exit velocity of 109 mph, that provided all of the scoring, and also sent a 99 mph live drive to the mound that reliever Aaron Ashby snared for the out.
After flying to left field in his first at-bat last night, Mullins launched a curveball from Eric Lauer 413 feet to right-center field for his first career grand slam. Exit velo was 101.8 mph.
Mullins is the first Orioles center fielder to hit a grand slam since Adam Jones on July 28, 2008 in New York, and the first at home since Brady Anderson on Aug. 26, 1997 versus the Royals.
“Incredible for him to step up like that,” said starter Spenser Watkins. “He’s our guy, so for him to do that is awesome, and I’ve got to do a better job of putting up a zero after that.”
Mullins led off the ninth with a double to right-center against Brewers closer Josh Hader, who tried to get a 97.3 mph sinker past him. This one was clocked at 97.3 mph.
“I think he’s still searching a little bit, but I think he showed some positive signs (Monday),” manager Brandon Hyde said before the game. “Him staying through the middle twice on a line. In Tampa he was out around a little bit. Just a little too quick, and (Monday) I thought his approach was better.
“He even had a foul ball to third base line that to me looked like his swing from last year, where he was really staying on the baseball, really handsy, not so much quick to get to the pull side, and it resulted in two line drives up the middle (Monday).”
Mullins barreled another ball last night in the seventh, a scorching liner at 101.5 mph that Willy Adames turned into an out with a leaping catch.
The middle giveth and taketh.
There isn’t much doubt whether Jorge López is the Orioles’ closer. The actions speak louder than words.
López got the save in Monday’s home opener, the second of his career and first since 2019 with the Royals. He began to warm last night in the eighth after Austin Hays reached on a leadoff single with the Orioles trailing by a run.
Joey Krehbiel already was up, but López joined him in case the Orioles took the lead. Otherwise, Krehbiel was going to pitch.
The Orioles loaded the bases with no outs, struck out three times to keep the Brewers ahead 5-4, and Krehbiel walked through the bullpen door.
Krehbiel stranded a runner after third baseman Ramón Urías committed a fielding error, striking out Christian Yelich and giving him three scoreless innings this season.
The right-hander actually would have gotten a save opportunity Friday at Tropicana Field if the Orioles rallied in the top of the ninth. López already had come into the game as part of a parade of relievers. Krehbiel was warming.
Brett Cumberland wasn’t in Triple-A Norfolk’s lineup last night after appearing in four games. Jacob Nottingham was behind the plate and Richie Martin led off as the designated hitter.
Cumberland is 2-for-14, and the .250 on-base percentage is a significant drop from his career .370 mark. He’s drawn two walks, but here’s the kicker: no hit-by-pitches.
Oh, they’re coming. Right around the corner is going to be a fastball that catches flesh.
Cumberland was hit 28 times last season in 84 games. Sounds like a lot until you consider that he was struck 41 times in 2017 while playing for two Single-A affiliates in the Braves system.
It’s like he’s drawing the bullseye.
My curiosity led me to Cumberland’s locker last month in spring training, and he explained how it keeps happening.
“A lot of guys move out of the way. I don’t move out of the way. That’s all it is, really,” he said.
“My dad (Craig), when he was younger, he would train me to roll with it rather than move out of the way, and I think when you do roll with it, you protect yourself a lot more. When you try to get out of the way, that’s when you expose your ribcage and other parts of your body. But when you roll with it, it gets the meat of your back most of the time, and it doesn’t hurt that bad.”
Unless your head gets in the way.
“I’ve been hit in the head, too,” he said. “That’s what we’ve got helmets for, you know?”
So, it’s all about proper technique and another very important component.
“I don’t have a fear of being hit.”
Cumberland can get more chances behind the plate with Adley Rutschman back in Sarasota recovering from a strained right triceps and increasing baseball activities. The former second-round draft pick had a .352 OBP last summer, but he batted .187 with a .330 slugging percentage.
“It was bad. Yeah, it was bad,” he said. “But it’s OK, I still did some things well, got on base, which I’m normally pretty good at getting on base. I just hit terribly. I’d like to hit better this year, absolutely.”