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Communication remains work in progress for Orioles outfielders

Orioles outfielders have spent the first month of the season not only getting comfortable with life in a major league outfield but also with each other.

The Orioles have deployed eight starting outfield combinations through 28 games. The two most commonly used of those, at seven games each, feature Cedric Mullins, who was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Monday, as the center fielder. The third, with six, has Trey Mancini, injured in Saturday’s loss to the Minnesota Twins, in right. Manager Brandon Hyde’s lineup has used no other combination more than twice.

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Stevie Wilkerson, who entered this year with 15 games in the outfield across five professional seasons, has found himself out there exclusively since his call-up to the Orioles on Monday for Mullins. Twice, he has collided with or nearly collided with a teammate.

"We're doing a nice job in the outfield,” Hyde said. “One thing we could improve on is a little bit of outfield communication. Have some guys playing in some spots that they're not normally used to playing, but we're just not communicating great in the outfield. We've got too many times we're running into each other a little bit, but it's something we're talking about and working on.”

In Tuesday’s victory over the Chicago White Sox, Wilkerson, playing left, chased down a ninth-inning fly ball before giving way to third baseman Rio Ruiz. Wilkerson slid in an effort to avoid contact, but he went directly into Ruiz’s legs as the infielder made the catch. Neither was injured on the play.

On Friday night against the Twins, with Wilkerson making his first major league appearance in center field in the late innings, he narrowly avoided colliding with left fielder Dwight Smith Jr.

Hyde said the problem relates to players’ youth or inexperience at their positions. Of six starting outfielders the Orioles have used in 2019, four have less than a year of major league service time.

"I think we have some quiet guys, too, that aren't as comfortable playing a big league outfield and understanding sometimes how loud sometimes it is out in the outfield,” Hyde said. “We ran into that problem at Fenway [Park in Boston] with some inexperience out there; guys just aren't used to playing with that much noise, and I think that that just comes with time and experience, and I think they're getting used to it now."

The other two starting outfielders, Mancini and Joey Rickard, are being tasked with playing positions they’ve played less commonly. Mancini had made only two professional appearances in right field before starting there 16 times season. Mullins’ demotion left Rickard as the Orioles’ primary center fielder; compared to 172 career starts between the corner spots, Saturday marked his 26th start in center.

It’s been mixed results thus far. He dropped a fly ball on the warning track Friday, but then made a diving play later in the game and another Saturday.

“The balls right at you tend to play tricks with you a little more,” Rickard said. “Depending on the day, it's just reading the ball off the bat and getting a good jump and communicating."

Rickard said the outfielders are working with outfield instructor and first base coach Arnie Beyeler daily to improve that communication. Hyde said arm motion or improved call timing can help resolve some of the problems. More time together should help those efforts with communication, too.

"It can only go up,” Rickard said. “We put the work in, and we'll see the results.”

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