CINCINNATI — When Cedric Mullins takes the field — which is happening almost daily — he’s moving with a fluidity that evaded him at the end of last year.

He’s making Gold Glove plays in center field. He’s stealing bases. And his bat is creeping back up to where it was during his All-Star campaign in 2021.

He’s not doing anything new. So what’s the difference between this year and last?

He’s no longer in pain.

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“There are certain things that people just never know in the midst of struggle, in the mist of coming back from injury, how you are actually feeling,” Mullins said. “I can be honest as I possibly can, but I’m still going to feel worse than I’m actually saying.”

Mullins knew his team needed him last year. The Orioles were fighting to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016, and Mullins, who weathered three 100-loss seasons, was a big part of that. He had two stints on the injured list, missing close to two months with a groin strain, but he returned in August.

The injury, though, never quite went away. He could step it up in big moments — most notably hitting the sacrifice fly that scored the winning run in the game that clinched the playoff berth.

Mullins put on a brave face, said he was fine. But, deep down, he knew that wasn’t the case most days.

“There would be days when I would feel really good but the next day would just attack me so bad, but it’s because it was still healing and I just overexerted myself that day,” he said.

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He was also wearing a wrap that impacted his batting stance. The team tried to make adjustments with his mechanics to account for the way the wrap limited his movements, but they never quite got there. He hit .190 after he returned from the injured list and went 0-for-12 as the Orioles were swept in the American League Division Series.

“It was throwing me out of whack, but in order to stay healthy I had to do it,” he said.

So this offseason he took extra steps to ensure he would be healthy come opening day. He rested when he needed to, did extra soft-tissue work and put an emphasis on straightening the abductor muscles.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - APRIL 15:  Cedric Mullins #31 of the Baltimore Orioles catches a fly ball hit byByron Buxton #25 if the Minnesota Twins in the first inning during a baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 15, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland.  All players are wearing the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Mullins makes a diving catch of a ball hit by Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins during a game in April. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

He also started using nutrition to aid in his recovery. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2020, and, after spending time with a nutritionist, has a better understanding of what he should and shouldn’t eat. He knows more about the little things, such as how many carbs he needs to intake so his body is storing enough water.

He also takes iron pills and has learned that the timing of when he takes them makes a big difference.

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“Sometimes your body doesn’t want to recover, or doesn’t have enough time, so the focus is on effectively doing that,” he said. “In terms of how my body has been feeling on a day to day, it feels more prepared. Instead of having a really good day and having three so-so days, I might have one but then I’m back. So limiting those days where I’m not feeling my best helps with performance.”

The difference is clear. He’s played 32 of the Orioles’ 34 games, and while his average is just .206, he has six home runs and six stolen bases. His defense is also back to his usual standard, Mullins recognized for making the MLB play of the week twice already.

“He’s doing a great job taking care of his body,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s doing an unbelievable job in center field for us, the way he’s commanding the outfield, taking charge. Playing Gold Glove defense for me. I think his at-bats are better, more toward the first half than the second half. ... He’s doing a lot of really good things.”

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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