Wrapping up Mullins’ day, Hernández’s second start and 7-5 loss

What to do with Cedric Mullins is one of the items that’s missing from manager Brandon Hyde’s plate.

Mullins is going to be on the opening day roster. He’s going to play a lot of center field. And he’s going to hit in the leadoff spot.

Baseball is losing its prototypical leadoff types, but Mullins fits the description and fits in the Orioles lineup. He began today’s 7-5 loss to the Pirates with another hustle double and scored on Yolmer Sánchez’s single.

Center fielder Anthony Alford robbed Mullins of another hit with a diving catch in the third inning after Jahmai Jones’ leadoff walk. Sánchez singled again and Ryan Mountcastle, who misplayed a fly ball in left field in the first, doubled off reliever Chasen Shreve to score two runs and tie the game 3-3.

Pat Valaika had an RBI double and Ramón Urías singled for a 5-3 lead.

Mullins-Swings-Left-White-ST-Sidebar.jpgMullins could have been in the middle of it all except for Alford’s defensive gem. He flied to the track in right field in the fourth and is 8-for-21 (.381) with three doubles, a triple and a 1.000 OPS.

“Cedric’s really swinging the bat well,” Hyde said on his Zoom call. “He’s squaring up two or three balls a game right now. I really like the low liners he’s hitting, as well, he almost jumped one out of the park here today. His at-bats are super competitive. He went left-on-left slider, drove a ball into left-center. That was impressive.

“The speed, the hard contact he’s making right now, the defense that he plays, he’s playing extremely well. And made some nice swing adjustments to really stay above the ball and to really stay through the ball. So I really like how he’s swinging the bat right now.”

Hyde’s plate is stacked with questions about his rotation. Félix Hernández worked 2 2/3 innings and allowed four runs (three earned) and five hits with no walks, one strikeout and a home run, wild pitch and hit batter - former Orioles catcher Andrew Susac. He threw 20 pitches in the first, 18 in the second and 16 in the third before Hyde removed him with two outs.

Hernández didn’t turn up the heat in his second outing. Alford’s two-run homer in the second inning came on an 85 mph fastball, and the veteran right-hander topped out again at 87.

Alford was playing for the Blue Jays on Sept. 23, 2019 when he hit his first career home run, a walk-off shot to beat the Orioles 11-10. Ryan Eades surrendered it.

The unearned run off Hernández came in the first after Mountcastle’s error on Ke’Bryan Hayes’ fly ball.

“I thought Félix did a nice job,” Hyde said. “He elevated that one to Alford for the homer, but besides that I thought he did a nice job of keeping the ball down, got some weak contact. The slider and changeup are still ... I think he’s going to get sharper as he goes along this month. I thought he competed and he felt good after the outing, and that’s all we care about right now.

“I think my experience with veteran players in general in spring training is, a lot of times these guys know how to get ready for the season and young guys are trying to make the club, they’re trying to impress. I think veteran guys sometimes it takes them a little longer and you’ve got to hang with them a little bit in spring training if you’re not getting the results early on, just because they know the grind of a six-month season, they know how to get ready. So we’re doing that with Félix, knowing that you’ve got 2 1/2 weeks more to go and he’s got a couple more starts.

“I think guys who have been around for a while know how to get ready.”

Comparing his two outings during his Zoom call, Hernández said today “was better.”

“I mean, I was throwing a lot of strikes, I was attacking the zone and I feel really good,” he said. “The results aren’t what I want, but it feels good.”

Hernández got his strikeout on a changeup that he didn’t use in his spring debut. He estimated that he threw “three or four,” used his curveball “a lot,” and used his sinker and slider.

Asked if he’s concerned about his velocity, Hernández reminded the media that “this is the kind of pitcher I am,” and that he got to 91 mph last spring.

“I don’t care about velocity,” he said. “I just want to get people out.”

The results also don’t worry him.

“No, not at all, not at all,” he said. “The only one hard-hit was the homer. That’s it. Other than that, it was ground balls, ground balls.”

Alford doubled off Jorge López in the fourth and later scored the tying run on a wild pitch. Evan Phillips surrendered two runs in the seventh, including Will Craig’s tie-breaking homer.

López allowed only one run and one hit in three innings for his second impressive outing in a row.

“I really like his stuff,” Hyde said. “I think he’s really tough to hit. He’s just continuing to fine-tune his pitches and work on his command.”

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