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Cedric Mullins’ star-turn for Orioles has All-Star campaign heating up: ‘He’s gotten better in every single way’

Before Friday night’s 7-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, one Cedric Mullins bookended with home runs, the Orioles’ breakout star said it was hard to ignore all the All-Star speculation swirling around him.

Even harder to ignore was most of the largest crowd of the season at Camden Yards (13,284) getting a T-shirt with his name and number on it at the gate — and his teammates eating donuts with his face on them.

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All he wants, he said, is to put it all aside come first pitch every night and help the Orioles win. To the extent that the Orioles (23-46) do that this year, Mullins is often at the heart of it, to the point that even his manager is openly campaigning for him to be named among the league’s best.

“He’s playing with a ton of confidence,” Brandon Hyde said. “He’s gotten better in every single way. ... He shows you the power. He has the speed, and he’s playing like an All-Star. The defense has been All-Star level for a couple years now, and that’s even improving as well.”

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Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins celebrates with teammates after a win against the Blue Jays on Friday night in Baltimore. Mullins homered twice to raise his batting average to a team-high .322 with a .935 OPS.
Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins celebrates with teammates after a win against the Blue Jays on Friday night in Baltimore. Mullins homered twice to raise his batting average to a team-high .322 with a .935 OPS. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Mullins, who only last year reclaimed the starting center field job he lost with a disastrous April in 2019, has been a different player since he abandoned switch-hitting this offseason. Unburdened from having two swings to work on and think about — one of which wasn’t working at all — a left-handed hitting Mullins has been one of the league’s best hitters this year.

“I’m really impressed with how far he’s come in two years,” Hyde said. “It’s an amazing difference.”

Said Mullins: “It’s good to be able to reflect on those moments and known that I’ve grown as a player. It’s a matter of continuing to progress from here. It feels like I’ve hit a sort of peak, but I continue to see if I can push that limit. I’m going to continue to work hard and see how it goes from there.”

With three hits, including two home runs, plus a hit-by-pitch Friday, Mullins is batting a team-high .322 with a .935 OPS. He entered Friday’s game with a 149 wRC+, which was eighth-best in the American League according to FanGraphs, and second among outfielders.

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Coincidentally, Trey Mancini could say the same thing on the day All-Star selections were announced in 2019, though he was left on the outside looking in. That unfortunate bit of circumstance is likely to paint how the next few weeks of All-Star hype goes for the Orioles. They’ll want Mancini, who in his return from stage 3 colon cancer is batting .273 with an .823 OPS, part of the festivities as well.

Teams at the bottom of the standings typically aren’t represented by multiple All-Stars, even if, as was the case in 2019 with left-hander John Means and Mancini, they have multiple deserving players.

Mullins has built his case based on consistency, and it’s a strong one. He had nine hits the first weekend of the season in Boston, including the first of his two five-hit games, and carried that through an April in which he was essentially the only Oriole hitting at all. He ended the month batting .337 with a .932 OPS.

The Orioles' Cedric Mullins watches his three-run home run off Blue Jays relief pitcher Jeremy Beasley during the eighth inning Friday in Baltimore. The Orioles won, 7-1.
The Orioles' Cedric Mullins watches his three-run home run off Blue Jays relief pitcher Jeremy Beasley during the eighth inning Friday in Baltimore. The Orioles won, 7-1. (Julio Cortez/AP)

With a minor league track record full of high highs but deep slumps, Mullins’ May swoon was hardly that; he still hit .255 with nine extra-base hits and a .732 OPS that month. Combined with his center field defense, he more than justified his presence in the lineup every day. The low point of his season — ending the May 29 doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox batting .291 with an .818 OPS — is still better than anyone on the team is hitting right now.

But he caught fire again as that trip ended, beginning a nine-game hitting streak the next day. He’s hit .419 with a 1.306 OPS in 16 games since, and continued his star turn every chance he got.

When right-hander Thomas Eshelman joined the Orioles from Triple-A Norfolk on Friday, he couldn’t help but join the chorus of those hoping Mullins’ recognition soon goes beyond Camden Yards.

“I told him today, when I got to my locker, ‘Hey, man, it’s an awesome experience to be next to an All-Star.’ Hopefully, he gets that nod,” Eshelman said. “He deserves it, big time, and I’m glad he’s on our side.”

Mullins, without campaigning for himself, said that the outcome so many around the Orioles hope for would be a nice one.

“It would be awesome,” Mullins said. “I know my team has my support and everything, and I have their backs, as well.”

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