Mullins making most of latest opportunity with Orioles

The four-game series against the Mariners that begins tonight at Camden Yards features three opposing left-handed starters, which won’t influence whether Cedric Mullins stays in the lineup.

Those days appear to be in the past.

The novelty of Mullins batting left-handed against southpaws is now viewed as the proper approach from a player who’s easily been the most impressive in the lineup to begin the 2021 season.

Ignore the lowered bar. He’s earned the distinction.

Mullins is 6-for-11 with a double against southpaws. His 17 hits this season are tied with the Red Sox’s J.D. Martinez for the major league lead. He’s been an April All-Star at the plate and in the field.

Mullins-Swings-Lefty-White-ST-Sidebar.jpg“I am so impressed with his left-on-left, how hard that is to do,” manager Brandon Hyde said yesterday morning in his Zoom call. “Decide to go just hit left-handed in the offseason, work on it, have a spring training where you have some at-bats - not a ton, but we tried to get him as many at-bats as we could against left-handed pitching. But to stand in the way he is against these left-handed starters and bullpen guys.

“Even the (Aroldis) Chapman at-bat, even though he punched out, the foul balls back, like he’s in the action. It’s been really good. And just been really impressed with his professionalism of how he handled things two years ago and to what he is today and just how he’s playing the game aggressively on the bases, defensively. He’s made so many really good catches look extremely easy so far and last year, too. So, yeah, I just hope he keeps it going. This guy’s got a lot of ability.”

Also in the past is the miserable start to the 2019 season that earned Mullins a demotion to the minors, costing him the center field job that had been passed from Adam Jones.

“He’s played really well so far,” Hyde said. “I’m just so happy for him because I didn’t see him play in ‘18, just highlight and stuff, but I didn’t see him play. And ‘19, the start he got off to, I really just didn’t know what kind of player he was. He was really struggling and you could see the confidence was way down, and just to see the progression from there has been incredible.”

Mullins singled off right-hander Nick Pivetta yesterday to run his hitting streak to 13 games dating to last September. He doubled in the ninth and scored to leave his average at .459 with a 1.188 OPS.

The nine-game hitting streak to start the season is the longest by an Oriole since Manny Machado (16) in 2016.

Hyde is getting his first real look at the Mariners since 2019, with last summer’s regional travel keeping the Orioles on the East Coast.

“I was looking at the Seattle roster today. I’m pretty unfamiliar with a lot of their players. Texas as well,” Hyde said, also mentioning the next opponent, which hosts the Orioles in a weekend series.

“You rely on our advance guys, I watch the starters, I watch some bullpen arms, probably watch some previous games, just try to familiarize myself with some of their players. But that is a challenge. And the same for them against us, too. They don’t know a lot of our players, either.

“Makes it fun, though. Makes it fun seeing somebody else. But it’s a challenge for both sides.”

Can it be any harder than staying in the American League East?

Ryan McKenna could replace DJ Stewart in the lineup tonight against Seattle lefty Justus Sheffield. McKenna tripled yesterday for his first major league hit and singled and scored in the ninth.

“I was happy that I was helping the team at least a little bit,” McKenna said. “Obviously, getting the first hit in the big leagues is something to celebrate, but my goal is definitely to help the team win. In the grand scheme of things it’s tough always losing that way, but I was happy that I was able to help and move the lineup and score some runs.”

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