Mullins-less Orioles showcase team effort vs. Guardians

May 31st, 2023

BALTIMORE -- is one of the Orioles’ best players. But he’s not their only good player. Far from it.

That’s how Baltimore knows it will be OK while the standout center fielder misses an extended period of time due to a right groin strain.

“The good news for us is we’ve got other good players,” general manager Mike Elias said late Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve got other good guys here that, hopefully, they pick us up.”

The Mullins-less Orioles immediately came out and made that statement Tuesday night.

Baltimore jumped out to an early lead thanks to a two-run double by in the first inning and a five-run rally in the second, and it held on for an 8-5 win over Cleveland at Camden Yards. The offensive outburst came after the O’s scored only seven total runs over the first four games of their homestand, which included a 5-0 loss in Monday’s series opener.

The Orioles didn’t have a Silver Slugger atop their lineup -- but they had , who singled and scored a run in each of the first two innings. The 31-year-old has made 388 of his 698 big league starts in the No. 1 spot, and he can be a productive bat atop the order.

There wasn’t a 2022 Gold Glove finalist manning center field for Baltimore -- but there was , an athletic outfielder who showed his range with several nice plays. He may typically man left field, but he made 156 of his 289 Minor League starts in center. Plus, he said he actually finds the spacious left field at Camden Yards more challenging.

Hays, Mullins’ former roommate during their time together in the Orioles’ Minor League system, is confident in the ability of Baltimore (35-20, the third-best record in MLB) to keep having success while his close friend is out of action.

“I don’t know if you can replace what he brings to the table,” Hays said. “He’s elite at every facet of the game. So it’s going to be a group effort to really come together and just play as a whole to try to do what we can to fill that void.”

It won’t be solely on Hays to fill Mullins’ spot in center. The freshly signed Aaron Hicks and strong defender Ryan McKenna will get time there as well.

Offensively, the O’s have enough firepower to withstand Mullins’ absence, which they showed.

collected three hits -- a pair of doubles and a bases-clearing triple in the second that pushed the Orioles’ lead over the Guardians to 7-0. Henderson added two hits and three RBIs, while Hays and drove in a run apiece.

“We hate that [Mullins] got injured in that way, but I felt like we all had a great approach and great players behind him,” Henderson said. “You saw it, we put a lot of runs up today and just had our pitchers’ backs.”

Right-hander Kyle Gibson fell an out shy of recording his third consecutive quality start, but he notched his third straight win by allowing three runs over 5 2/3 innings. The 35-year-old extended his scoreless streak to 15 frames and retired Cleveland’s first 10 batters before giving up a one-out single in the fourth to Amed Rosario, who came around for the Guardians’ first run.

During the middle innings, the game got much closer than manager Brandon Hyde would have preferred, as Cleveland plated two runs in both the sixth and seventh. But Hyde turned to Baltimore’s back-end bullpen duo of Yennier Cano (1 1/3 scoreless innings) and closer Félix Bautista (a 1-2-3 ninth for his 14th save) to seal a bounce-back victory.

That’s one win for the O’s since Mullins went on the IL, but it was their 35th of the season, which is tied for the second most in MLB.

“Around the team, we can pick him up,” Gibson said. “I feel like that’s the biggest thing for him. If he can see us picking him up, playing well, getting some wins with him on the IL and come back and be in a better spot, or the same, he’s going to feel pretty good about it as well, and so are we.”

With every other position player on the 26-man roster still at Hyde’s disposal -- and the fact that Mullins’ diagnosis wasn’t as bad as it could have been -- Baltimore considers itself fortunate.

“You never want to see it, and it hurts to have one of your main guys missing time, but it’s part of the game,” Hyde said. “Good teams are able to deal with some adversity and have other guys step up.”

They did Tuesday, and they’ll aim to keep doing so until Mullins eventually returns.