Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk amid his slow start to the season, the team announced Monday, with utility man Stevie Wilkerson replacing him on the active roster.
Mullins, who made his major league debut in August as the heir to longtime center fielder Adam Jones, was struggling badly through the first month of the season, with just six hits in 74 plate appearances for a .094/.181/.156 batting line in 22 games.
“He just got off to a tough start this year and kind of never got going,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “There's some things that you'd like to see him work on offensively, but his main thing is his confidence. When you scuffle for a while, you can press. It gets mental. We just thought the best thing for him was to go down there in a different environment, a little bit less pressure, and just go work on taking great at-bats and compete at the plate at the Triple-A level, and hopefully come back up here soon.”
He had two triples in a 12-4 win over the Oakland Athletics on April 6, but had just two singles since, and that's with most of his at-bats coming against right-handed pitching. Mullins, a switch-hitter, is more advanced batting from the left side than the right. Hyde said it’s not so much about hitting from both sides as putting together better at-bats in Triple-A.
“We talked a lot about competing at the plate,” Hyde said. “Work on your mechanics, work on the swing stuff in the cage, but when the game starts, to compete against the guy that's on the mound, whether it's right-handed, left-handed, whatever it may be. I think it's going to be a nice fresh start for Cedric.”
While his arm has been challenged in center field, Mullins has otherwise played strong defense. Hyde noted as much in his assessment of Mullins’ start.
“Love the way he was playing defense,” Hyde said. “He's really contributed defensively, but we just felt like from a confidence standpoint, we'd like to see him go down there, work on some things, get some more at-bats. But yeah, it's mainly he's been scuffling and we want to see him — he's a big part of our club going forward and for the future, and we want to see him have success. We thought the best thing for him was to go down there and kind of clean-slate this season, work on a few things offensively and hopefully come back up here soon.”
The Orioles’ outfield will be stretched a bit thin without him, as only Joey Rickard can play center field in an outfield lineup that includes Dwight Smith Jr. and Trey Mancini, while Wilkerson and Renato Núñez could deputize in the outfield as well.
“Joey's playing out there tonight, and we don't have much experience in center field right now,” Hyde said. “That's why it's a little bit of a blow — Cedric played really well in center field. It's an important position obviously. Now we're going to give Joey — and Stevie might get some opportunities out there. We're going to see what they can do out in center field.”
Wilkerson, who was outrighted off the roster in spring training, is off to a good start at Triple-A Norfolk, batting .316 (18-for-57) for the Tides.
To add Wilkerson back to the 40-man roster, the Orioles designated right-hander Josh Lucas for assignment. Lucas was optioned to Norfolk on Saturday and allowed two earned runs in three major league appearances this month.
“He's going to play a lot,” Hyde said. “He switch-hits. That's a big factor as well. But he also got off to a really good start in Norfolk, so we're hoping he continues to swing the bat like that here.”
Cobb faces hitters
Right-hander Alex Cobb, who was hit hard in his return from the injured list because of a back strain on Saturday, faced hitters in a live batting practice setting at Camden Yards before Monday’s game instead of taking a traditional bullpen session between starts.
Hyde said there were no physical issues with Cobb’s back, and he felt good, but wanted to try and see what it felt like to have hitters in the box.
“Cobber wanted it,” Hyde said. “He wanted to make it a little bit more game-like. Having that little bit more of layoff there … he was pretty rusty and he hadn't had any game situations in a couple weeks. You can throw all the sides you want, but ti's different when there's hitters in the box. He wanted to face some hitters and make it more game-like and include that in his side session before his next start.”
Around the horn
Left-hander John Means will start Wednesday for the Orioles in their series-finale against the Chicago White Sox. … Smith (quad tightness) said he felt better after leaving Sunday’s game, and is available to pinch-hit Monday if need be. … Hyde said right-hander Nate Karns (forearm soreness) would play catch this week, but that his planned minor league rehabilitation outings might be pushed back after the soreness reoccurred during his outing for Norfolk on Saturday.