Mullins strengthens 'amazing' All-Star bid

June 19th, 2021

BALTIMORE -- Charm City is catching All-Star candidacy fever. Just ask . He arrived at Oriole Park on Friday to find his shirsey being handed out at the Camden Yards gates, his face plastered onto doughnuts. He left it with the sound of M-V-P chants in his ears, having turned his T-shirt night into a three-hit, two-homer showcase, and Baltimore’s 7-1 win over the Blue Jays into the signature performance so far in a first half that could well land him in the Midsummer Classic.

But first, Mullins needs help. He placed just outside the nine finalists in the first All-Star balloting update MLB released last week. That’s where the doughnuts come in, via the Dunkin Donuts promotion -- which also includes Trey Mancini -- meant to encourage the more sugar-inclined O’s fans to help Mullins punch his ticket to next month’s All-Star Game.

“It felt a little odd when I saw a video of [O’s reliever] Tanner Scott biting my head clean off,” Mullins said. “It would be awesome [to be an All-Star].”

With more nights like Friday, that feels bound to happen. Putting the Orioles ahead with a leadoff homer off Robbie Ray and breaking things open with a three-run blast off Jeremy Beasley in the eighth, Mullins backed Baltimore’s best-pitched game in two full weeks as the Orioles snapped an eight-game losing streak. He did it while leapfrogging Vladimir Guerrero Jr. back into the American League lead in hits, earning his first career curtain call and third career multi-homer game. All three have come this season. 

“That’s the most energy in the ballpark I’ve seen here in three years,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “For the fans to recognize Ced, that was a super cool moment. This was just a great night for Cedric.”

It was also a microcosm of the type of production coming from Mullins all season. The Orioles’ center fielder is among the AL leaders in hitting (.322; third), hits (84; first), OPS (.935; fifth), Outs Above Average (7; tied for fifth) and Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement (3.3; third) as of Friday’s final out. This comes only two years after Mullins struggled so mightily he found himself back in Double-A, and only a few months after he officially jettisoned switch-hitting with an eye toward winning a starting role this spring. Since, he has been simply brilliant.  

“He’s playing like an All-Star,” Hyde said. “He just walks around different. He’s playing with a ton of confidence. He’s gotten better in every single way. His swing is so short right now … I’m really impressed with how far he’s come in two years. It’s amazing, the difference.”

His achievements on Friday came in support of four Orioles relievers and emergency starter Thomas Eshelman, who was summoned from Triple-A Norfolk hours earlier and held Toronto to a run in 4 2/3 innings in place of the injured Bruce Zimmermann. The Orioles aren’t expecting Zimmermann to be out long, with Hyde saying the left shoulder tendinitis the rookie is experiencing is likely to sideline him for 10 days to two weeks.

Eshelman will plug the rotation hole in the interim, after making eight starts for the Orioles from 2019-20 but spending the first months of 2021 at Norfolk. He returned to Oriole Park on Friday well aware of what Mullins has been doing, and with a message. It wound up setting the stage for a June evening that, for Mullins, may lead to a very special one come July. 

“Hey man,” Eshelman told Mullins when he arrived at his locker. “It’s an awesome experience to be next to an All-Star.”

“He’s unbelievable, man,” Eshelman said later. “Hopefully he gets that nod. He deserves it, big time. I’m glad he’s on our side.”