CLEVELAND — With Cedric Mullins struggling at the plate in late April and no real alternative in the fold to replace him, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde sat in his office with executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and came up with a solution out of thin air.
"Me and Mike were just talking about it one night, probably about three days before [Stevie Wilkerson] got here," Hyde said. "Not kidding. We had him play a game or two down in Norfolk, and then he came, and he's been playing center field quite a bit.
"We were talking about a lot of things. I don't know if it was me or him who came up with it, but we sent a message down to Norfolk to see if we could get some time for him in center field. A few days later, he was here."
The result has been a real spark — to the extent of any the Orioles have had this year. Wilkerson's fourth home run of the season helped them to a 5-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Friday, and Saturday marked his 12th start in center field in his past 13 games, knocking Joey Rickard into more of a reserve role.
Wilkerson, 27, entered Saturday hitting .333 in that stretch and .292 on the year. He’s had some difficult moments in center field but nothing glaring for a player who had never played it before being thrust into the role for a few days in Norfolk before his call-up. What he does struggle with, he makes up for with athleticism.
"That's what we were trying to come up with," Hyde said. "Looking for some athleticism and Stevie brings that. We wanted to see what that looked like down there. It probably happened a little faster than we anticipated, but we rolled the dice, took a chance and he's been playing well."
With Mullins still trying to steady himself at Norfolk, and Austin Hays finally back in games, there are more options behind Wilkerson than there were at the time. Mason Williams is also center field depth at Norfolk, but it's not as if Wilkerson will be hearing footsteps with the way he's playing.
"I just like the at-bats he's taking," Hyde said. "He's playing with nothing to lose and leaving it out on the field. It's fantastic.
"I just think he's a really good athlete. He's going to make some mistakes here and there, but the more reps he's getting out there, you see the improvement and I just like the speed factor. I like the aggressiveness. I think he's going to get better and better as he continues playing the outfield."
Ramirez to start Sunday
With the Orioles in need of a starter Sunday because of Wednesday's doubleheader at the New York Yankees, the team will turn to right-hander Yefry Ramirez for the series finale in Cleveland.
"I'm looking forward to watching him make his first start here," Hyde said. "I want to see him locate his fastball, and I like the way his changeup plays. I think it's a good matchup for him against these guys."
Ramirez has allowed a run in each of his three major league relief appearances this year, and made a dozen starts for the Orioles last year with a 6.92 ERA, with five relief appearances mixed in.
Around the horn
Orioles legend Brooks Robinson turned 82 on Saturday. ... The Orioles typically wear orange Saturday, but wore their Friday black uniforms for Saturday's game because Cleveland wore red and MLB prohibits red-against-orange games.