Notes: Mullins goes left; Díaz homers

O's leadoff man plays to strengths, abandons switch-hitting approach

February 28th, 2021

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A curiosity sat at the top of Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde’s first spring lineup card Sunday, when the Orioles opened Grapefruit League play with a 6-4 loss to the Pirates at Ed Smith Stadium. Next to leadoff hitter ' name? An “L” to indicate left-handed, not “S” to designate Mullins as a switch-hitter. It was not a typo.

The Orioles and Mullins have decided the speedy center fielder will hit only left-handed going forward, eschewing switch-hitting after parts of three big league seasons. Mullins, who is battling Austin Hays for the O’s center field job this spring, is a career .251/.305/.394 hitter left-handed. He’s hit just .147/.250/.189 from the right side.

“It's something we've talked about for a few years,” Hyde said. “He actually brought it up to us in our first Spring Training here [in 2019], and then it was something he came to us about again. So we're gonna back him and support him with it, and [left is] obviously the side that he's a lot more comfortable hitting. He's had more success in the big leagues swinging the bat left-handed.”

Shortly after approaching O’s officials with the idea in spring 2019, Mullins got off to a terrible start and finished the year at Double-A Bowie. He struggled from both sides of the plate, but especially right-handed, going 1-for-15 without an extra-base hit before his demotion. His splits were lopsided during his resurgent ‘20 season:

Right-handed: .171/.216/.286
Left-handed: .305/.348/.448

His power, too, has come disproportionately from the left side. Mullins managed one homer and a double in 111 right-handed plate appearances; he’s hit six homers in 307 plate appearances as a lefty, including the Orioles’ longest of 2020.

From the trainer's room
The first injury of Orioles camp has struck. Left-handed pitching prospect Alexander Wells is dealing with oblique soreness that’s held him back early in camp, Hyde said Sunday. The issue is similar to the one Wells dealt with last spring, when he did not appear in Grapefruit League play after pulling his left oblique during early workouts.

Hyde said Wells arrived at camp this spring with the soreness.

“It's progressing,” Hyde said. “It sounds like he has been improving, and right now he just needs to rehab it.”

The O’s No.20 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Wells spent all of 2020 in his native Australia, unable to attend the O’s secondary site or instructional camp due to travel restrictions. Baltimore added him to the 40-man roster in November regardless, hinting at Wells potentially debuting in '21.

The 24-year-old southpaw last pitched competitively in 2019 in the Arizona Fall League, capping an excellent year at Double-A Bowie that saw Wells go 8-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 24 starts. Wells pitched to a 0.57 ERA across nine appearances with the Surprise Saguaros, eight of which came in relief. He was the O’s organizational Minor League Pitcher of the Year in '17.

On the field
Besides Trey Mancini’s emotional return, Sunday’s on-field highlight came from outfield prospect , who socked the O’s first home run of the spring with a two-run shot off Carson Fulmer in the sixth. Díaz, Baltimore's No. 8 prospect per MLB Pipeline, started in left field and was the only Orioles starter to get four plate appearances in the opener, finishing 1-for-3 with a walk and the homer. Acquired in the Manny Machado deal in 2018, Díaz is going to get a long look as part of the O’s crowded outfield picture this spring, with his long-awaited debut likely slated for sometime this summer.

Back from the trainer's room
Among the eight Orioles pitchers to take the ball Sunday was left-hander Josh Rogers, who made his first appearance since undergoing UCL reconstruction surgery on his left elbow in May 2019. Part of the Zack Britton deal in ‘18, Rogers is now 26 and profiles as starting depth, likely at Triple-A Norfolk. He allowed a run on two hits and struck out one in one inning of work.

Up next
The Orioles hit the road for their first time this spring Monday, when they travel to Clearwater, Fla., to play the Phillies at 1:05 pm ET. Rotation candidate Jorge López gets the start opposite Philadelphia ace Aaron Nola at Baycare Ballpark.