MILWAUKEE — Shortly after he signed with the Orioles to help fill in for injured center fielder Cedric Mullins, Aaron Hicks sat down with two of his new coaches to figure out how to fix his swing.
They flipped on video of Hicks’ time with the New York Yankees, who released him at the end of last month. Co-hitting coaches Matt Borgschulte and Ryan Fuller saw the most intriguing potential: with only a small adjustment, they thought, Hicks could get back to his best.
“They feel like that’s what’s going to allow me to be the player I was three years ago,” Hicks said, before cutting off. “Five years, I think. I had to think about it.”
It’s been a while, after all.
The videos were all from Hicks’ 2018 season in New York, the best of his career. He slugged 27 homers while playing the most games he has in a single season. Hicks hasn’t reached those heights since, and perhaps he never will.
But the 33-year-old can at least try.
“A lot of the technique that I used in my swing [in 2018] is what they’re trying to implement, or try to get me to get back to,” Hicks said.
Borgschulte described it as wanting Hicks to be in more of an athletic position in his initial stance and when his stride foot lands. Hicks said, to be more athletic, he wants to stand taller. By focusing on his posture more than his swing, Hicks feels his hands will have more space to work through the swing.
That’s where Hicks found himself lacking this season with New York. He hit .188 in 28 games, a steep decline from the heights of his time in pinstripes. The past few seasons led to that, however, with diminished playing time and a below-average OPS+ in 2021 and 2022 (OPS+ ranks players on a scale in which 100 is average).
After joining the Orioles as a replacement for Mullins — who strained his groin and will miss a month or more — Hicks crushed his first home run for his new team in the series opener against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday. He tripled against the San Francisco Giants, and he reached base three times in his debut in Baltimore.
That is a very small sample, though. One good week isn’t enough to pronounce Hicks entirely revitalized. But it takes one good week to make a change.
“He’s playing with a ton of life, a ton of energy,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “There’s a smile in the clubhouse. He’s enjoying being out here. He’s enjoying being in the lineup every day. That’s something that hasn’t happened for him in a couple years, so coming to the ballpark knowing he’s going to play probably frees him up a little bit, and so far he’s making the most of this opportunity.”
Hicks might have a bigger stat line had a potential extra-base hit not been robbed in San Francisco. And, in Tuesday’s opener, Brewers center fielder Joey Wiemer ran down a ball and Luis Urías laid out at second base to rob him again.
Between those hard hits, Hicks has forced deep counts. There aren’t any easy at-bats against him.
“That’s exactly what you want out of a hitter, is somebody that’s going to work an at-bat,” Borgschulte said. “Whether you’re going to get a hit or not, if you’re making the pitcher work, if you’re laying off pitches outside the zone and ready for the ones in it … that makes it even more challenging when they do come in the zone. They are a little more worried about what they’re going to throw.”
This is all early stages. Hicks joined the club a week ago and may yet be just an injury replacement while Mullins is absent. Or he could rediscover some of what he did in 2018 — and, in doing so, lift the Orioles’ batting order.
“They’re trying to get me to that spot,” Hicks said. “With that it’s going to take repetition in doing it, but I feel like we’re heading down the right road.”