After two weeks away, the Orioles have their leadoff hitter back.
Cedric Mullins, who played for the United States at the World Baseball Classic, returned to Sarasota on Thursday and resumed his spot in center field and atop the Orioles’ lineup. And he did so in style, ripping a three-run home run to center field in his second at-bat in Baltimore’s Grapefruit League game against the Detroit Tigers.
Mullins played periodically for a Team USA club stacked with most of the best position players the country has to offer, including outfielders Kyle Tucker, Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. That left Mullins on the bench for most of Team USA’s games, but that didn’t prevent him from making an impact when he did see the field. Mullins hit a triple and a home run with two RBIs in his 10 at-bats at the WBC.
“It was amazing,” said Mullins, adding that his solo home run against Cuba was the highlight. “All-around amazing experience. I’d recommend anybody who has that honor to take it for sure.”
The 28-year-old was one of three players on the Orioles’ 40-man roster to participate in the WBC. Anthony Santander was one of the best hitters at the event with a 1.297 OPS for Venezuela, while starting pitcher Dean Kremer tossed four scoreless innings in his lone start for Israel.
“I’m definitely proud of those guys as well,” Mullins said. “I think Tony’s first hit was 99 [mph] inside, taking him deep. For that to be your first hit, that’s pretty impressive. I was excited to watch him play and obviously face him, that was a great game and something that’s going to be a memory forever.”
Also in the 8-8 tie with the Tigers, catcher Adley Rutschman reached base three times as a right-handed hitter (two walks and a single), Ryan Mountcastle went 3-for-4 to stay hot (1.225 OPS this spring) and Daz Cameron got revenge against his former team with a solo home run and an RBI double.
Out of the bullpen, closer Félix Bautista pitched a scoreless inning in his fourth spring outing after struggling with his command Monday.
Another up-and-down Rodriguez start
For the third straight start, Grayson Rodriguez ran into trouble the second time through the order.
But this time he was able to bounce back in the same outing.
Rodriguez, the Orioles’ top pitching prospect who is vying for a spot in the starting rotation, allowed five runs in the third frame — his third consecutive game with a merry-go-round inning.
This time, though, he was able to exit the troubled inning and go back out for the next one for a three-up, three-down frame.
“I think today was probably my best start,” Rodriguez said. “I definitely felt the best. This spring, we’ve got a lot of things we’ve worked on, and that’s what it’s for. I think we accomplished that.”
He was sharp through two innings against a Tigers lineup with five regulars and multiple bench players before allowing four hits, a hit by pitch and five runs — including a three-run homer — in the third.
On March 12 against the Boston Red Sox, he lost command in the fourth, allowing four runs and not recording an out. Against the Red Sox again Saturday, he allowed a two-run home run in the third and then couldn’t get the final out of the fourth, committing an error, throwing a wild pitch, walking a batter and giving up a double off the wall.
“This is his first true major league spring training,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I think we have to remember he’s a really young player. Sometimes it’s OK to go through some rough patches to know that you have to make some adjustments.”
One clear positive for Rodriguez was his slider. Hyde said before the game he wanted to see that pitch be more effective and catch up to how well Rodriguez’s fastball and changeup have been this spring. Despite the poor third inning, Rodriguez said his slider was the best it’s been all spring, using it often back door against left-handed hitters.
“It was definitely the best I’ve thrown the pitch all spring,” Rodriguez said. “It’s something we’ve really been working on. I was pretty happy with how the slider was.”
He ended the outing — his final of spring training — with five strikeouts and no walks in four innings, his first time finishing the fourth in camp. In 15 1/3 spring innings, the 23-year-old right-hander allowed 17 hits and 12 earned runs while punching out 19.
The big question now for the Orioles: Should Rodriguez break camp in the starting rotation?
“We’re still evaluating, honestly,” Hyde said. “We still have other guys that are rotation candidates, also. We’re going to make that decision at the end.”
Outfield prospects Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad were reassigned to minor league camp Wednesday after standing out in their first big league spring training camp.
Hyde talked to both youngsters yesterday and told them “how impressive they were” in Sarasota.
“They both have huge ability,” Hyde said. “I thought they handled themselves so well in major league camp, both of them their first major league camps. And had a ton of productive, really good at-bats by both guys.”
Kjerstad, the No. 2 overall pick in 2020, was one of the Orioles’ best hitters this spring with a 1.219 OPS in 42 at-bats. Cowser, the No. 5 selection in 2021, hit three home runs — including a 467-foot blast — and walked a whopping 13 times in 46 plate appearances.
“I thought they had great experiences, and we have high hopes for those guys as two really quality people,” Hyde said. “I thought they handled themselves incredibly well this camp.”
Yankees (SS) at Orioles
Friday, 6:05 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Source: Berkshire mont
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