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Mullins giving his all to grab outfield spot

March 14, 2019

SARASOTA, Fla. -- It speaks to the intensity of competition in Orioles camp this spring that the status of Cedric Mullins has come into focus lately. The club’s everyday center fielder for more than a quarter of last season, Mullins arrived to camp the favorite in the eyes of many

SARASOTA, Fla. -- It speaks to the intensity of competition in Orioles camp this spring that the status of Cedric Mullins has come into focus lately. The club’s everyday center fielder for more than a quarter of last season, Mullins arrived to camp the favorite in the eyes of many to reclaim that job. And perhaps he still will.

But at the same time, nothing is guaranteed in this Orioles camp, which has already cut one outfielder, DJ Stewart, who ended the 2018 season as a regular. Mullins knows that, which is why he arrived in Florida “knowing I would have to battle for a spot.”

“That was fuel to the fire,” Mullins said. “I had my ups and my downs last year, so I was trying to come in to make a strong impression.”

Results-wise, Mullins has largely fallen short of that goal, his home run in Thursday’s 7-6 loss to the Twins aside. The three soft outs that followed sagged his spring average to .152 in 11 games, which looks especially stark against the backdrop of Austin Hays’ superb Grapefruit league showing. Hays is now hitting .364 with a 1.279 OPS after socking an RBI double Thursday when his start in center pushed Mullins to left field for the first time.

“I don’t need the results to show I’m having quality at-bats,” Mullins said. “As a whole, I’d say it’s been pretty good. … As long as I’m putting the ball in play, I know I’m seeing the ball well. And thinking of a negative can hinder performance.”

How strong a play Hays is making at Mullins’ spot remains unclear, though the Orioles have certainly taken notice of his recent play. Orioles skipper Brandon Hyde praised both following Thursday’s game, saying of Mullins, “I like Cedric’s at-bats. He has a lot of tools. He can run on you. He can pop you like he did today.” It’s that eclectic skillset that helped Mullins reach the Majors, where he hit .235 with a .671 OPS in 45 games in 2018 (while Hays was sidelined with ankle injuries).

And for what it’s worth, Hyde has been granting Mullins as many as four at-bats a game lately, in an effort to shake him out of his spring funk. That alone indicates how heavily he factors into the Orioles' plans. But the pressure from Hays counts as something to keep an eye on as Opening Day nears.

“I just like his game,” Hyde said of Mullins. “I just want to see him do what he’s doing, compete pitch to pitch, grind out every at-bat.”

Nunez is OK

The Orioles were relieved to learn image testing wasn’t necessary on Renato Nunez after the third baseman suffered a minor shin injury. Batting against Minnesota lefty Adalberto Mejia in the fourth inning, Nunez remained on the ground for several minutes after pulling an inside pitch off his front (left) leg, ultimately remaining in the game after receiving initial attention from the club’s training staff. But Nunez was removed a batter later, after he’d hobbled to third in front of a Hays double.

Nunez is considered day-to-day, which could complicate his chances of winning an increasingly-intense third base competition with Rio Ruiz. Nunez is hitting .207 across 11 games this spring while struggling defensively.

What to do about Araujo?

The Orioles haven’t seen all that much of Pedro Araujo this spring, but the right-hander represents one of their most difficult looming personnel decisions. A Rule 5 Draft pick last year, Araujo still retains 17 days of that eligibility heading into this season. He cannot be sent to the Minors if he does not make the team without first being offered back to the Cubs.

That alone gives the Orioles some incentive for breaking camp with Araujo in the fold. Whether they will remains an open question.

It was the Orioles former front office that took a chance on Araujo, not the new unit who has showed no qualms with roster turnover. Araujo’s performance also continues to complicate things.

He didn’t help his cause Thursday by allowing a solo home run to Ronald Torreyes in his lone inning of work; the righty has now surrendered six runs (five earned) across 4 1/3 innings in Grapefruit League play. Araujo pitched to a 7.71 ERA across 20 appearances as a rookie in 2018.

Worth noting

• After appearing in game action for the first time in more than eight months Wednesday, Mark Trumbo returned to the lineup for a second consecutive day Thursday. That in itself proved important for Trumbo, who continues to seek chances to test the strength of his surgically repaired right knee. Trumbo flied to center and grounded to short, and is now hitless across four spring at bats. He will likely rest Friday before returning to the lineup this weekend.

• The little things keep adding up for Chris Davis (left hip flexor strain), who was able to take positives from two at bats while playing for the second time in three days. Both came in lefty-on-lefty matchups with Mejia, against whom Davis worked a fourth-inning walk and served an opposite-field single in the fifth. Davis managed only nine opposite-field singles during the regular season in 2018; he’s now poked two in his last two games.

Watch out

The crowd of 4,527 at Ed Smith Stadium were greeted to a surprise spectacle prior to first pitch, when two men in parachutes landed on the outfield grass shortly after the singing of the national anthem. One was cloaked in an American Flag; the other dragged with him a flag carrying the Orioles’ logo.

Up next

The Orioles take on the Twins on Friday in Fort Myers, Fla., at 1:05 p.m. ET as David Hess will get the start at Hammond Stadium.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.