Nothing has been particularly bad about Cedric Mullins' spring so far. It's just that everything he's been earmarked to do for the 2019 Orioles — namely lead off and play center field — has someone doing it better of late.
Jonathan Villar is just as capable of leading off and making things uncomfortable on the bases. Mullins' longtime road roommate, Austin Hays, is having a fabulous spring and started in center field Thursday, pushing Mullins to left field.
Mullins isn't exactly feeling the heat, but his solo home run to open the Orioles' first inning provided some relief in Thursday's 7-6 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
He categorizes his spring, which now features two home runs and a .152 average, as one where he's felt "pretty good."
"I'm seeing the ball really well, having good at-bats," Mullins said. "The results are what they are, but as long as I put the ball in play, that tells me that I'm seeing the ball well. Thinking of a negative can hinder performance.
"I felt like [I was fighting for a spot] coming in. I had my time when I played center every day last year, but I had my ups and my downs, so to come in, just try to make a strong impression, whether it's offensively, defensively, or both in the same day — that’s what I'm trying to do."
Mullins said he’s confident the coaching staff knows he’s swinging the bat better than the results indicate, and manager Brandon Hyde agreed.
“I like Cedric’s at-bats,” Hyde said. “He’s got a lot of tools. He can bunt on you, he can run, obviously. He can pop one on you—pop one like he did today. he’s got some nice pull power from the left side, especially. I just like his game. For me, it’s just experience and confidence and continuing to throw him out there. … I just wanted to see him just do what he’s doing, which is compete pitch-to-pitch and grind out every single at-bat, and make things happen on the bases. He’s done it, for the most part.”
Before the game, Hyde said there wasn't much behind having Mullins play left field and Hays in center, just that he wants players to get time in positions they might play during the season. Mullins said he felt comfortable there, and he knows that's important to the impression he's making as well.
"We've been told that defensively, it's going to be a thing that we're known for, and he's going to put the best defensive team out there, regardless of who that might be," Mullins said. "I'm just trying to make the most of that opportunity."
Mullins' home run came on a day when Hays had an RBI double and Jace Peterson came off the bench for his first home run of the spring. Starter Dylan Bundy left after allowing four runs in five innings, and the Twins got runs off relievers Pedro Araujo and Jimmy Yacabonis to eventually level the proceedings at 6 before scoring the winning run against Branden Kline in the ninth.
The Orioles had a pair of injury scares with third baseman Renato Núñez and catcher Andrew Susac after they were hit by deflected balls at and behind the plate, respectively. Núñez fouled a ball off his left knee and remained in the game to single after a quick evaluation, but was pulled for a pinch runner after going first-to-third on Hays' double.
Hyde said he had a contusion in the bad spot below the knee, and considered it day-to-day, though Núñez wasn’t going to play Friday anyway. He said Núñez missing some games won’t impact his case to make the team.
“Just a little bruise under the knee, and he should be fine in a couple days,” Hyde said.
In the eighth inning, Yacabonis hit a batter with a pitch that deflected and appeared to hit Susac in the right hand. He, too, got attention from the training staff and Hyde, but stayed in the game. Hyde said it was one of those games where
“I felt bad for him,” Hyde said. “It was a rough go.”
With Bundy needing a long outing and so many pitchers scheduled for Thursday, right-handers Miguel Castro and Gabriel Ynoa went to pitch in minor league games at Twin Lakes Park across town. Before Bundy went five innings, Ynoa's four-inning outing was the longest of the spring for the Orioles.
Hyde said sending pitchers to Twin Lakes would be a regular practice going forward, especially with games started in minor league camp.