Hicks helping O's weather Mullins' absence

Veteran's four-RBI game helps Baltimore creep closer to Tampa Bay in the AL East

June 21st, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- Cedric Mullins is close to rejoining the Orioles’ lineup. But his temporary replacement in center field continues to do one heck of a Mullins impersonation.

set the tone with a first-inning homer and drove in four runs as the Orioles defeated the Rays at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night, 8-6, bringing the Orioles within four games of the Rays in the American League East.

After his 2-for-4 performance, Hicks is slashing .340/.444/.604 in 17 games since he was signed on May 30, the day Mullins went on the injured list with a right groin strain. His dinger, a three-run clout that came off his bat with an exit velocity of 104.4 mph, was his third in 53 at-bats with his new club. Hicks had just one home run in 69 at-bats and posted a .524 OPS with the Yankees this season before being released on May 26.

“The opportunities weren't really coming my way [in New York], but that was the situation that I was in,” Hicks said. “I had a rough year last year, and now I have an opportunity here and I’m trying to make the best of it.

“It's been awesome [with Baltimore]. The team has really welcomed me ever since I got here, and I've been able to pretty much ... play every single day, and it's been fun.”

Hicks’ home run was part of a four-run first inning, the Orioles’ most productive opening frame of the season. Anthony Santander added a two-run homer in the second off Rays starter Tyler Glasnow, who went just 4 1/3 innings and allowed six runs in a start for the first time since 2018.

“Every time they got a pitch they could handle, it seems like they handled it,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said of the Orioles’ barrage against his starter.

Right-hander made that early support stand up through five impressive innings. Facing a club that entered the game with a .505 slugging percentage against fastballs, Bradish threw just nine four-seamers -- his fewest in any start of his career -- and instead leaned on his slider.

Bradish lamented in his previous start that his slider didn’t have its typical sharpness. On Tuesday, it was a Ginsu knife, carving up Tampa Bay’s high-scoring lineup. He had seven strikeouts after three innings, and seven of his eight K’s came on the slider. Bradish got 12 misses on 23 swings at the pitch, for a lofty 52 percent whiff rate.

If you want a sense of how Rays hitters were baffled by Bradish, just watch his fourth-inning strikeout of Randy Arozarena, who flailed helplessly as the bat flew out of his hands and landed near shortstop Jorge Mateo.

“It was really good,” Bradish said of his best pitch. “I was mixing it in early and late. … My last outing, [the slider] was a lot off the plate. I think I was in the zone with it early and then expanded it.”

Said Cash: “I think we were pretty aware of what he was trying to do with the curveball-slider combination, but we didn't really have an answer for it.”

Tampa Bay finally got to Bradish for two runs in the fifth, then closed the gap to 7-6 after a four-run sixth against three Orioles relievers. Second baseman Adam Frazier preserved the lead with a fine running grab to end the inning.

Hicks then provided his most important hit of the night: a line-drive single to center in the eighth to score Austin Hays and give the Orioles a valuable insurance run.

and , as they have done so often this year, took care of things from there, recording the final seven outs. The 28-year-old Bautista, who started the day with his teammates singing “Happy Birthday” to him in the Orioles’ clubhouse, ended the night with his 20th save.

Although Mullins was scheduled to begin a rehab stint with Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday, the Tides' game at Nashville was rained out. The Orioles can’t wait to welcome back their All-Star center fielder. But Hicks’ resurgence has allowed them to give Mullins as much time as he needs to get ready for the second half of the season.

“We got fortunate that Hicks was available, and he’s played great for us,” manager Brandon Hyde said.