To hear manager Brandon Hyde describe the situation, it does not sound as if Austin Hays will be ready to come off the injured list when eligible this weekend, given the sore state of his non-displaced fracture in his right rib. The unknown, at this point, is just how long Hays will need to be sidelined with the injury. The trickle-down effect is obvious, in the way it opens up the opportunity for Cedric Mullins to re-assert himself in center field.
So far, he’s making the most of it. Mullins was one of the Orioles' few bright spots in their 8-5 loss to the Red Sox on Friday night, showing his array of skills in the club’s sixth straight defeat. This opportunity has not existed in roughly 16 months for Mullins, who was the Orioles Opening Day center fielder a year ago before slumping through a lost 2019 season.
“I just see a totally different guy from a confidence standpoint, a guy playing with some energy and taking charge more,” Hyde said. “Right now he's playing with a little bit of a swagger.”
In making a plus defensive play in center, homering and executing a successful bunt single, Mullins has now hit safely in all six games starting in place of Hays, going 10-for-21 with Friday’s homer in that span. The seventh-inning solo shot off Josh Osich was part of a back-to-back situation with Pat Valaika, preceding Chance Sisco’s three-run tater an inning later.
“I felt like every pitch is working except my changeup,” said Means, who now sports a 10.13 ERA through four abbreviated starts. “That's kind of been the story of this year for me. All my pitches feel really good except for the changeup, which is something I didn't think I would have to worry about. The movement is good. It's just middle middle every time.”
All told, it was the first time in 13 instances this season where the Orioles scored at least five runs and did not win, as the magic from their surprise start to the season fades more and more by the day. The lack of a full-throttle Means is one issue, as the lefty remains restricted by pitch count limits while he builds back up from time away due to arm fatigue and personal tragedy. Their start-and-stop offense is another, though it stands to reason the addition of top prospect Ryan Mountcastle and Mullins’ resurgence could catalyze it in time.
Promoted Friday morning, Mountcastle walked twice in four plate appearances in his much-anticipated team debut, also making a few routine plays in left field. Once a heralded prospect himself, Mullins pulled his first homer since Sept. 18, 2018, when he was summoned to replace Adam Jones in center field. It was also his first career extra-base hit as a right-handed hitter.
“The work that I put in during the offseason has made tremendous strides in my game in general,” Mullins said. “And just seeing it now that there's opportunity for me.”