As the Orioles braced for the extended loss of center fielder Cedric Mullins to a strained groin muscle, knowing that further tests would confirm his placement on the injured list but relieved that the news wasn’t worse, they pondered their options for replacing him on the active roster.
They couldn’t consider Triple-A outfielders Colton Cowser and Kyle Stowers, who were on the injured list. They could recall an infielder to provide depth while others offered support in the outfield corners, leaving center to Austin Hays and Ryan McKenna, but shortstop Joey Ortiz wasn’t available due to some sort of illness that’s kept him from playing since his last demotion.
Aaron Hicks was a free agent after the Yankees designated him for assignment and released him, and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias expressed interest prior to Mullins’ injury. And the price certainly was right, with the Orioles paying on the prorated major league minimum.
But beware of accepting the role of center fielder with the Orioles. Mullins strained his groin. Hays was out of Wednesday’s lineup because of an illness, which showed in his face later as he shuffled to his locker with one of the athletic trainers. Hicks made his debut with the club, reached base three times and exited with left calf cramps.
One scenario that the Orioles didn’t consider, of course, was promoting Heston Kjerstad from Double-A Bowie. Many fans wanted it. I’m guessing that a few thought it could happen.
Kjerstad is having one of the finest seasons in minor league baseball and it’s happening after his selection as Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League. But the next time he jumps levels, his feet will touch down in Triple-A.
“The offense has been terrific,” Elias said recently. “I’ve talked about it enough, but just so great, the spot that he’s in right now, given the (health) history. He’s doing great. We’re talking about what to do with him next. I’m not saying anything’s imminent, but it’s becoming a constant conversation in the front office about when’s the right move for him.”
The Orioles don’t need Kjerstad to play center field, where he made three starts in the AFL. He’s been used at first base and in left and right with Bowie.
“He’s primarily an outfielder,” Elias said. “I do think he’s a better outfielder than first baseman, but as you’re seeing with this team right now, it’s really helping us that basically everyone on this team can play like three positions, and there’s weird stuff with the lineups some nights, and it gives Brandon (Hyde) the ability to do some creative things to keep bats in the lineup. So I think this will be a great thing for Heston in his career if he can play a little first base. So, that’s all that is.
“Also, we’ve got a lot of prospects and it helps other people get those outfield reps when he’s playing first.”
* Adley Rutschman went 5-for-5 on Opening Day and has collected four hits in three other games. However, only once has he reached base three times on infield singles.
Rutschman did it in Wednesday’s series finale against the Guardians, in the second, fourth and sixth innings. He slapped a single into left field in his last at-bat.
The Royals’ Alcides Escobar and the White Sox’s Roberto Alomar are the only players with four infield hits in a game since 2003, according to STATS. Rutschman, Trey Mancini, Hanser Alberto and Adam Jones are the only Orioles to do it in that time.
But what about catchers?
Since you asked …
Rutschman joins the Nationals’ Keibert Ruiz and the Dodgers’ Will Smith in 2021.
Rutschman's four games with at least four hits was the most by any Orioles player through 56 games since the franchise moved to Baltimore.
* If you’re wondering what former Orioles manager Dave Trembley is doing these days, he’s back for a second season as manager of the State College Spikes, a collegiate summer team in the MLB Draft League.
Trembley guided a Spikes team comprised of draft-eligible prospects from around the country to a 20-18 record in the first half of the 2022 season, good for second place in the league. They went 21-19 in the second half and stayed in contention for a berth in the championship game until the final week.
Before moving into his current role, Trembley managed the Bristol State Liners of the Appalachian League in 2021 and held the dual roles of Director of Player Development and Minor League Field Coordinator for the Atlanta Braves from 2014-18.
Trembley is a great teacher of the sport and an even better guy.