Mullins returns to O's, discusses injury and quick recovery

June 25th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- Orioles manager Brandon Hyde called it the “best-case scenario.” How could he not?

When pulled up with an injury while running to first base on May 29, it could have been easy for everybody associated with Baltimore -- its players, its coaches, its fans -- to fear the worst. The diagnosis of a Grade 2 right groin strain didn’t alleviate all the concerns.

However, Mullins is already back, needing less than a month to return. The 28-year-old center fielder was activated from the injured list prior to Saturday afternoon’s game vs. the Mariners at Camden Yards, and he immediately reclaimed his spot atop the O’s lineup as the designated hitter, going 0-for-4 with a walk and a run scored in a 6-4, 10-inning win.

Although the timeline may have seemed fast to some, Mullins wasn’t too surprised -- especially with how his body improved during his time at the team’s complex in Sarasota, Fla., then during his three-game rehab assignment with Triple-A Norfolk in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday and Thursday.

“I had a hamstring injury back in 2017, and I kind of had a flashback to that,” Mullins said. “But it didn’t feel as bad as back then, so I had an idea that it wasn’t going to be as long of a stint for me. Just really didn’t know what the body was going to feel like.”

According to Mullins, his right groin began to show major improvement during the end of his second week on the IL. He wasn’t having any issues swinging a bat, so his recovery timeline largely depended on how he felt while running.

In his rehab games, Mullins needed to check off three boxes -- how his body reacted to shifts in position, to changes in angles and to straight runs at full speed. It handled everything well.

“I’d say the only limitation I have would be the mental side of knowing that I got hurt and trying to stay out there,” Mullins said. “In terms of all-out speed, I’m full go on that. It’s just a matter of continuing to focus on my form work and making sure I’m getting in the training room, getting what I need to prep for the games.”

The Orioles went 11-9 without Mullins, a 2021 All-Star and Silver Slugger who slashed .263/.356/.479 with 12 doubles, three triples, eight homers and 39 RBIs in 53 games prior to the injury. Upon his return, Baltimore was 45-29, a record that ranked third in the American League and fourth in MLB entering Saturday.

Hyde was satisfied with how the O’s handled the absence of one of their core players.

“I think that we could have played better. There’s games in there that we didn’t play our best baseball,” Hyde said. “But to lose one of your main players and to stay above .500 and to stay right in the thick of it, I think that was really important, and we did that.”

It wouldn’t have been possible without Aaron Hicks, who signed with Baltimore on May 30, the same day Mullins was placed on the IL. The 33-year-old Hicks, who was released by the Yankees on May 26, owns a .306/.403/.581 slash line with three doubles, one triple, four homers and 11 RBIs through his first 20 games with the Orioles.

Mullins and Hicks didn’t share the outfield on Saturday -- with the former at DH and the latter still in center -- but they should soon, with Hicks likely sliding over to right and Anthony Santander getting more time at DH. When that happens, Hicks is eager to look to his right and see Mullins.

“We’ve been talking a lot since I’ve gotten here. Now, to be able to finally play the field with him, it’s going to be fun,” Hicks said. “I’ve seen him on the other side of the field a lot. He’s taken a lot of my hits away, so I’m glad to be on the other side of that.”

Mullins was excited to get into action with Hicks -- and the rest of his Baltimore teammates -- as well.

“Team’s just been doing what they do,” Mullins said. “To be able to come back and immediately get back in action feels really good.”