Vavra left to meet outfield challenges with Mullins down

Cedric Mullins goes down with an injury and the outfield dominos fall.

Austin Hays started in center field Tuesday night and would have switched to left yesterday except for an illness that kept him out of the lineup. Aaron Hicks roamed the middle for a while, with Ryan McKenna in left.

McKenna subbed in left and center in the ninth inning Tuesday, and he switched from left to center yesterday after Hicks exited with muscle cramps in his left calf. Ryan O’Hearn played right field yesterday, with Anthony Santander used as the designated hitter.

Where they stop, nobody knows.

Mullins had missed only one game, for personal reasons, before straining his right groin. He was the constant. Lowered in the order against certain left-handed starters, but the fleet rock in center.

The Orioles must adapt to Mullins’ absence. Manager Brandon Hyde will need to get a little more creative with his lineups, and he’s already shown a willingness to keep shuffling like a Vegas dealer.

Terrin Vavra made his 13th career start in left field Tuesday and subbed yesterday, more exposure to the dimensions that underwent significant changes during the winter of 2021. Perhaps you read about it.

Vavra has to cover a lot more ground. He’s got to play balls off the 90-degree angle at the bullpen area. He’s got to avoid slamming his body against it.

“I feel like I’ve played there a good amount in my time here,” he said. “Obviously, I’m still just getting used to the outfield in general, so I’m trying to keep learning, keep getting better. Thankfully, we have some great people here, Hays and McKenna, who have played out there and have a lot of experience and can help, and they’re not shy to voice their opinion and help.

“That’s been huge, not only in just developing playing the outfield, but especially here, how to handle that. It’s good to pick their brain, for sure.”

So, what’s the most challenging part about patrolling left field at Camden Yards? Is it the expansive room or the angle? Inquiring minds want to know.

“I think anytime you’re in the outfield, you’ve got to keep your head on a swivel,” Vavra said. “I think the trickiest part is the biggest area out there, thinking that there’s going to be a wall and there’s not. Ultimately, you’ve just got to know that you’re going to be a little more aggressive going after them and make plays.”

The Orioles won their first game with Mullins on the injured list and lost yesterday. They remain hopeful that he’ll miss weeks rather than months.  

“He’s a big part of this team, not only in the lineup but how he plays center field, he’s one of the best in the game at it, and so that hurts. No doubt.” Vavra said.

“We have a great group here, we have guys that make the most of their opportunities, pick up the slack and keep the train moving, and I think that’s ultimately a testament to this team.”

As long as I’m firing outfield questions at players who didn’t ask to be quizzed, is it harder to play center or left at Camden Yards?

Hays paused, smiled and said, “I think it’s about the same amount of space.”

“Maybe left field now? I don’t know. I’d say left, I guess.”

That was his final answer.

The Orioles pondered other roster moves while preparing for Mullins’ stint on the injured list, but none of the scenarios included a starter for yesterday.

The 13-pitcher limit would have necessitated another move.

“We talked about some creative ideas,” Hyde said. “From the pitching standpoint, no.”

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