TORONTO - When it comes to exciting rookie center fielder Cedric Mullins, no doubt he has impressed Orioles manager Buck Showalter in many ways. With his speed, his defense, his maturity. But this year it was how he attacked a weakness during his time in the minor leagues that may have impressed his manager the most.
In 2016 and 2017 on the farm, the switch-hitting Mullins produced much better numbers batting left-handed than he did hitting lefties from the right side. Mullins knew he needed to get better from the right side and when he went to Double-A Bowie this year he put up stats almost identical from both sides of the plate.
Mullins hit .317/.373/.509 versus right-handed pitchers with the Baysox and hit .300/.317/.525 against lefties. At Single-A Delmarva in 2016, the now 23-year-old Mullins hit .290 against right-handers and .217 versus lefties. In 2017 with Bowie he hit .293 versus righties and .208 against lefties.
Mullins got the word from the organization that they wanted to see improvement from the right side. Or, Mullins was told, the organization might ask him to bat only left-handed.
“It was more or less kind of brought to my attention that if there was not much improvement on the right side it could be a possibility,” Mullins said Tuesday in the visiting clubhouse in Toronto.
Did he prove this year he could be solid from both sides?
“I’m always trying to prove it,” said Mullins. And in fact he did hit just .220 versus lefties this year at Triple-A Norfolk and .279 against right-handers. With the Orioles so far he is 1-for-7 (.143) batting right-handed and 12-for-32 (.375) batting lefty. The quest to get better is ongoing.
Showalter said, indeed he was impressed that Mullins wanted to work so hard on a lesser part of his game.
“What it tells you is that (he doesn’t) have a lot of ego,” Showalter said. “They are trying to...they want to be well rounded. Let’s face it, you know Cedric has some skills that might allow him to be a fourth or fifth outfielder. But that is not something he wants to do or something we want. We want him to be able to graduate and be an everyday player. I want guys that want to be on the frontline and that is what Cedric hopes to do.
“He’s made strides (hitting right-handed). The biggest thing is Cedric is going to attack the things he may not be good at. That is one of the challenges I gave him when he left camp this year. Let’s breakdown what are the finishing pieces (of his prospect development) and he’s receptive to that. It’s easy to come out here and work on your strengths every day. But do you have the wisdom and maturity to work on your weaknesses?”
Mullins said some of his improvement in this regard came during one long day of work under the Florida sun in March.
“It was just a matter of when I was sent back down to the minors from spring training, I spent an entire day batting against some of the coaches there that were lefties in the bigs including Scott McGregor. I established a plan at the plate, just understanding I am going to be a completely different hitter on both sides. Just need to figure out what works.
“That helped me understand what lefties are trying to do and what their approach is. Many lefties are the typical, finesse type of pitcher and you have to have a game plan against them,” he said.
Mullins could tell Showalter’s message about working on a weakness was rather important to the skipper.
“Absolutely. It is always a matter of trying to progress. He was able to tell me straight-forward what I needed to work on. I was able to put all my attention to that and along with my strengths keep making progress. I always take right-handed swings (in BP) to keep a feel for it.”
Mullins hit his second homer last night and in 11 games since joining the Orioles is batting .333/.409/.615. Of his 13 hits, seven have been for extra bases, with five doubles and two home runs. The kid that was drafted in the 13th round and told by some that at 5-foot-8 he might be too small to excel in the majors is in the majors. And is excelling. And is exciting to watch.
“I’m still a daze. Every time I take the field it is a great feeling. I’m in the bigs. Now it’s time to handle my business,” said Mullins, upon heading to the field for more pregame work.
Bundy’s struggles: As of after the game last night there seemed to be no talk of Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy going to the disabled list or skipping any starts. He is slated to pitch Sunday at home against the Yankees.
But maybe he needs a breather of some sort right now. He gave up seven more runs in last night’s loss to Toronto. He is 7-12 with an ERA of 5.31. Over his past eight starts, Bundy is 1-5 with a 9.08 ERA. He’s allowed 33 homers to lead the majors and that is two off an Orioles single-season record.
Bundy’s command continues to be an issue, especially most recently with his secondary pitches and his changeup has been the pitch most elusive to find in recent games. Some nights it’s been mostly a fastball and slider combo and catcher Caleb Joseph said that night not be enough.
“He can’t be boxed into two pitches,” said Joseph. “Really nobody in the league can do that and only have two pitches available. You’ve got to throw the curveball and you’ve got to throw the changeup. We threw more changeups tonight and we threw more curveballs and you’re still looking for that consistency with the shape of the pitch. He threw a couple good ones and a couple not so good curveballs and changeups. When the consistency is on there [it’s good]. It’s not like the stuff has completely gone away.
“You just have to keep going to the drawing board and you can’t give up. It’s really easy to get down and get beat down over and over and to maybe just lay down. But he’s not that type and we’ve got to be there for him as teammates to pick him up and encourage him and make sure he knows he’s a quality starter, a dependable starter on this team.”
Final notes: It is pretty amazing, but if the Orioles lose this afternoon they will go 0-10 this year at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. They’ve gone 0-for Toronto before. The 2010 team went 0-9. But this Toronto team is only 22-32 at home when not playing the Orioles. Before the Orioles got to town, Toronto had not won a home series since beating, of course, the Orioles July 20-22.
Last night’s Toronto starter, right-hander Sam Gaviglio, had gone 15 starts without a win until Tuesday night. He went seven innings for the first time since July 20 against, you guessed it, the Orioles.
The Orioles allowed four homers in a game for the seventh time last night. That is tied for second in the AL to Texas with nine. The Blue Jays hit three homers in one inning for the first time since Aug. 23, 2017 against Tampa Bay.
The Orioles have scored just 10 runs in going 1-4 on this road trip that ends today. They’ve scored only 26 runs their past 10 games.