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Cedric Mullins will bat only lefty now. Does that change the Orioles’ outfield mix? | ANALYSIS

With a simple lineup card that showed Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins as a left-handed hitter instead of a switch-hitter, the team’s crowded outfield picture took on a different look as spring training games begin.

The move, which manager Brandon Hyde confirmed Sunday, is first and foremost a way for the Orioles to get the best out of Mullins, but could have implications for the rest of their outfield mix entering the season as well.

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Simply put, it’s a way to make Mullins a more productive hitter and put him in the best position to succeed. He’s faced them far more often, but Mullins has been much better over his professional career against right-handed pitchers batting lefty than the other way around.

Before he made his major league debut in 2018, he hit. 280 with an .820 OPS and 148 extra-base hits in 1,288 at-bats as a lefty. From the right side, he hit .210 with a .615 OPS in 428 at-bats.

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Those splits carried over to the big leagues, as he hit .305 with a .796 OPS as a lefty and .171 with a .502 OPS from the right side. When hitting coach Don Long spoke of Mullins’ progress in 2020, he noted how much improved the outfielder’s left-handed swing was compared with the right-handed swing, which he called a work in progress.

Hyde said abandoning the right-handed swing was a possibility he brought up with Mullins in the player’s first spring with the Orioles in 2019, before his nightmare season sent him back to Double-A to find himself again.

“It’s something that he came to us about that he really wanted to just commit to one side of the plate and that was the left-handed side, so we’re going to back him and support him with it,” Hyde said. “It’s obviously the side that he’s a lot more comfortable hitting and he’s had more success in the big leagues swinging left-handed.”

While it’s tidy to look at Mullins in a roster conversation as a possible platoon in center field with the right-handed hitting Austin Hays, Hays doesn’t have such drastic struggles against same-side pitching as one might think.

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He’s hitting .273 with an .805 OPS and 51 home runs against righties and .316 with an .896 OPS against lefties, although he was far worse against lefties in 2019 at Triple-A Norfolk. In the big leagues, Hays has an .802 OPS against righties and a .583 OPS against lefties, albeit in a smaller sample size.

If the more recent performance is considered an anomaly, playing Hays more often against lefties and giving Mullins the opportunities against righties would be a simple route. But such a strict platoon would likely limit Hays’ offensive impact for the sake of being better as a team against left-handed starters, something the Orioles could easily consider.

But there are other factors at play. The Orioles could teeter on the verge of having too many players who are best suited to play against righties but offer little against lefties. Left-handed hitter DJ Stewart is one such player in the outfield. So is Chris Davis, who is presumably in the mix to be the designated hitter against righties considering the past two Orioles regimes have given him 49 starts against righties over the past three seasons.

The switch-hitting Anthony Santander is quite capable against both sides but fares better from the left side against righties, though he was far better in 2020 as a left-handed hitter. Fellow outfielder Ryan Mountcastle hasn’t had any major issues against right-handed pitching with his right-handed swing either in the high minors or in the big leagues, so he’s someone the Orioles will want to play everyday.

If anything, Mullins’ decision to bat left-handed only limits the Orioles from using his ability to hit from the right side to play him against lefties and thus insert a weaker bat into the lineup.

It doesn’t do much to change the fact that with Trey Mancini locked into first base and Davis not going anywhere, they essentially have six players who on most nights will have a claim to be in the lineup, but only four spots to put them.

Spring training

YANKEES@ORIOLES

Tuesday, 2 p.m.

Radio: 105.7 FM

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