Mullins led off the first inning with a home run, put down a perfect bunt single his second time up and doubled in his third at-bat. If he had stolen a base or two, it would have been the full Cedric.
Sure, it’s only spring, but that versatile three-hit performance came after the first 3½ weeks of the Grapefruit League season featured a total of five hits in 40 at-bats.
“I wanted to go out there and continue to increase my intensity coming into the season and just putting everything together,’’ Mullins said Thursday. “I put a good swing on the ball the first at-bat and I wanted to lay down a bunt at some point. So, I knew what I wanted to do, laid down a nice bunt and scored a couple of runs.”
No big deal, right?
Well, it seemed like it was kind of a big deal to manager Brandon Hyde, who said after the game that — more than the stats — he wants Mullins to continue to build up confidence as he wraps up spring training.
“Watching him briefly in September, he’s a guy that’s got some tools, that’s got some kind of sneaky pop,” Hyde said, “and now it’s just getting experience and understanding the league and understanding how to take major league at-bats and improving defensively in center … things like that, understanding the big league game.”
After breaking into the starting lineup last year, there was room to wonder if Mullins was just trying too hard to prove himself to the new manager and coaching staff earlier this spring.
“I don’t know if he was pressing early or not...maybe just his results weren’t there,’’ Hyde said, “but he’s playing the game well and that’s kind of all we wanted to see.”
Mullins, 24, doesn’t seem like a guy with a confidence problem, but he agreed he has been searching for his rhythm at the plate and that has taken longer than he would’ve liked.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I was discouraged,’’ Mullins said. “Just a little uncomfortable. That’s what I’ve continued to work on with [hitting coach] Don [Long] and a few other guys in the cage. Just getting comfortable back in the box. Not feeling as tight, staying calm, staying loose.
“I knew I was seeing the ball well, but just wasn’t able to put together the swings that I wanted. Yesterday’s game kind of brought all that together and some stuff was clicking."
This was all going on at a time when several other young outfield candidates were making a solid impression. Austin Hays, for instance, was having a good spring at the plate and was showing up periodically in center field.
If that was unsettling to Mullins, he didn’t let on.
“I knew coming in that I was going to be moving around and getting a feel for other positions, so no, it didn’t surprise me,’’ he said. “Austin and I were on separate schedules basically the whole spring, so I knew he was going be playing center field whether it be home or away and I was going to do the same.”
Mullins said he and Hays are “great friends” and they’re looking forward to playing side by side in the big leagues this year, but he understands why Hays was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk over the weekend.
“I guess the time frame in which it happened surprised me and Hays,’’ Mullins said, “but we were talking and he knew that he might have to make up some time from his injury. I know the previous year when I went through my hamstring injury, I had to do the same thing before I got called up to Triple-A. So, you know, we’re making our rounds, but I think he’s going to be back up soon.”