Mullins abandons switch-hitting, Wells injured and more

The red ink used this morning to write Cedric Mullins’ name on the lineup card, the designation for left-handed hitters, wasn’t a mistake.

Mullins has decided to abandon switch-hitting, a move he’s contemplated in the past, and concentrate on batting from the left side.

The splits drove him to it. Mullins slashed .171/.216/.286 from the right side and .305/.348/.448 from the left last year and is a career .251/.305/.394 hitter from the left and .147/.250/.189 from the right.

“He’s committing to just being a left-handed hitter right now,” manager Brandon Hyde said this morning in his Zoom conference call with the media.

“It’s something we’ve talked about for a few years, since I’ve been here. Something that he actually brought up to us in our first spring training here and it’s something that he came to us about that he really wanted to just commit to one side of the plate and that was the left-handed side, so we’re going to back him and support him with it. It’s obviously the side that he’s a lot more comfortable hitting and he’s had more success in the big leagues swinging left-handed.

“He’s done a lot of work against left-handed pitchers this offseason. I’m going to try to give him as many looks against left-handed pitching as I can on the back fields and during games.”

Thumbnail image for mullins-swings-triple-white-sidebar.jpgMullins could work in a platoon with Austin Hays, a right-handed hitter. Or one of them could claim the center field job on a regular basis.

Thomas Eshelman will pitch one inning today against the Pirates and do more throwing in the bullpen. The game has been shortened to eight innings.

Jorge López starts Monday afternoon, when the Orioles travel to Clearwater. Aaron Nola is pitching for the Phillies.

Hyde wants to see his starters going five or six innings by the end of camp.

Left-hander Alexander Wells has a slight oblique strain and must be pushed back in camp. He had a similar ailment last spring.

“It’s progressing,” Hyde said. “He did come into camp with it. It sounds like it’s been improving and right now he just needs to rehab it.”

Hyde said Trey Mancini will get two at-bats today. Mancini hasn’t played since March 2.

Yusniel Diaz is in left field today and also will get reps in center and right during camp.

“He’s doing a good job,” Hyde said. “He’s going to get a lot of at-bats this spring and get a lot of innings defensively.”

Hyde is going to be rotating players at third base. Rylan Bannon gets the start today and Rio Ruiz is likely to make the trip to Clearwater.

Among the players who won’t be in Monday’s lineup are Mancini, Mullins, Anthony Santander, Chris Davis and Pedro Severino.

Health and safety protocols allow only game players to sit in the dugout and pitchers in the bullpen. There also will be a limited number of coaches in the dugout. All of it to maintain the proper spacing.

Non-game players will leave.

Bruce Zimmermann was the hometown kid making his major league debut in September. With no fans allowed inside the ballpark. With only two appearances before reaching the conclusion of an unprecedented season in baseball history.

The Loyola Blakefield graduate and Orioles left-hander will give it another shot in 2021. Appreciative of the organization’s trust in him and hoping for more normal circumstances and surroundings.

“I went back home right after the season,” Zimmermann, an Ellicott City resident, said this morning in a Zoom conference call. “It was very fast and I wish I was up there for a little longer, but it was an amazing experience. And coming back home was definitely interesting with COVID still going on. The city and events and things like that were still very much limited or non-existent, unfortunately.

“But it was awesome. I still got to work with kids and talk to some of the local programs and things like that, and kind of be that face, one of the Maryland guys that had an opportunity and made it. So it was definitely a lot of fun to go back and speak to those people and kind of start that whole, I guess, journey, as hopefully being up here for a longer time and how I continue to interact with the Baltimore community moving forward and hopefully being a face for them in the coming years.”

Zimmermann stood on the mound in a mostly empty Camden Yards in the nightcap of a Sept. 17 doubleheader against the Rays. He allowed four runs in three innings, with Willy Adames and Hunter Renfroe homering in a 10-6 loss. Adames delivered a three-run shot in the first.

His parents won’t be able to make the trip to Florida for spring training, but other family members are visiting him.

“Luckily, they’re in Baltimore, so if all things go well, they won’t have to wait too long to see me,” he said.

“Hopefully with the regulations on COVID and stuff somewhat relaxing, and hopefully if I pitch well, all that comes together and I’ll kind of get that second debut in Baltimore and be able to have family and friends hopefully come out and see my pitch at Camden Yards.”

The 2021 spring camp offers more of an opportunity for Zimmermann, who has a legitimate chance to avoid the minors rather than just trying to impress Hyde and the coaches and get in position for a later call up.

Zimmermann was supposed to start the March 12 game against the Twins in Fort Myers that was canceled, with the sport shutting down due to the pandemic.

“To be honest, it’s not all that different in my mind,” he said. “Coming into last year, I knew there was a lot slimmer chance obviously of breaking with the team. I think this year, there is definitely more on the table, but in the same regard, I’m still trying to make the team, prove that I can be a valuable contributing member of the pitching staff, whether that may be in the starting rotation or maybe as a swing guy in the ‘pen. Basically just finding whatever role I can be successful in and contribute to the team.

“So coming into this spring training was about getting dialed in. I have a good relationship with Chris Holt from the previous two seasons, so having him as the pitching coach was continually building on that relationship, as well as getting back with (Darren) Holmes. I really liked working with him last season when I was up there. So basically just continuing to build relationships that I’ve been cultivating down here, as well as getting ready to throw in these games and earn that spot in this year’s rotation or bullpen, whatever it may be.”

Zimmermann made one start and one relief appearance in September after recovering from COVID-19 and working out at the alternate camp site, and the bullpen role looked good on him. One run and two hits allowed over four innings in Boston, with one walk and five strikeouts.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a world of difference, but obviously there’s guys that have done it their entire career and guys who have been starters, so there’s definitely nuances,” said Zimmermann, whose only relief appearance in the minors came in 2019 with Double-A Bowie.

“I will say that when I was in the ‘pen last year, those guys, I was able to pick their brain while I wasn’t pitching as much as possible. How do you get ready on a shortened time? I’m used to a long warmup as a starter, so I had to figure out what I had to do in a shortened sense to get me ready to get off the mound right away, so things like that. How do you guys go about your throwing and recovery on a day-to-day basis when I’m not on a five day.

“I’m not probably going to be a back-to-back guy or anything like that. I would assume I would probably land more in that swingman role. But basically just figuring out what I need to do in each situation to be ready to go whenever my name gets called.”

Zimmermann said he’s trying to build off the “limited” success that he’s had so far. He’s registered a 3.20 ERA in 61 minor league games, beginning his professional career as a fifth-round draft pick of the Braves before they traded him to the Orioles at the July 2018 deadline in the Kevin Gausman deal.

“I would like land a starting rotation spot. That’s my goal. I’ve been a starter my whole career, I’m comfortable starting, I think my repertoire plays very well there and I think I can contribute to the team there,” he said.

“As far as what I need to do, it’s continue to build on the consistency of all four of my pitches, being able to attack both sides of the plate, righties and lefties, successfully and just prove that I can get outs up here. It’s a different ballgame to a certain extent. Obviously in the big leagues it’s harder to stay here than get here, as they always say. So basically just improving on the consistency of everything.

“There’s always ways to get better. I need to develop a little bit more consistency with the curveball, but my other three pitches, especially my changeup and my slider, I felt I made a lot of progress on this offseason, being able to throw to both sides of the plate with that and attack hitters. Obviously keeping the walks down is huge for a starter, not that I’ve had too much issue with that, but that’s always on the table.”

What can Zimmermann really take out of his major league experience when the entire body of work is only two games near the end?

“You don’t want to put too much stock into it because in the grand scheme of things, what’s nine innings in an entire career? It’s nothing,” he said. “But at the same time, that tiny, tiny sample size is everything to me, and as far as I got there, I was meant to be there and I know I can pitch there, I know I can get one of the better lineups in baseball out. All those little things were more honestly a cherry on top to just an extremely weird year.

“I felt it was the best spring training I ever had in 2020 and then we all get sent home and then you don’t know if we’re going to come back. I get COVID, I had to deal with some other health things from that, so in reality it was just kind of more of a mentally satisfying thing to happen. You don’t want to harp too much on it or put too much stock into it, but at the same time, keep that in your back pocket. That’s why you’re there. This is the season to really show why that happened, to really prove how much of a valuable member I can be to this staff.”

Zimmermann has been introduced to veterans Félix Hernández and Matt Harvey, who are trying to make the team as non-roster invites and provide leadership on the staff.

“It’s been great, honestly,” he said. “I remember growing up, watching those guys pitch, especially Félix and then Matt Harvey in his earlier days with the Mets. I haven’t been in their groups all that much with the way it’s structured for COVID with Group A and Group B pitchers, but when I have the opportunity to talk to them or hear conversations they may be having with other players that I can pick up things on, it’s a constant learning process in spring training and having those guys around is a definite benefit for guys like myself and the other guys.

“There’s always room for growth in this game, everybody knows that, so whenever the opportunity is there I try to pick something up from those guys, for sure.”

Update: Mancini received a standing ovation, including both dugouts, as he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first inning, and lined a single into center field. Mullins, who singled and advanced on a wild pitch, stopped at third base.

“That was special,” said Eshelman, who joined the applause.

Chad Kuhl struck out the next three batters, including Davis.

Eshelman loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning on a single and two walks. He got a fly ball for the first out, but Mancini committed a throwing error after fielding Gregory Polanco’s grounder and trying to start a 3-6-3 double play. Two runs scored, one unearned.

Eshelman struck out Todd Frazier and the inning was rolled.

Left-hander Fernando Abad loaded the bases with one out in the second inning on a couple of singles and a walk, but he escaped the jam.

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