The leader of the Orioles clubhouse is back.
Cedric Mullins was activated Saturday after going on the injured list May 30 with a right groin strain, returning to his familiar spot at the top of the lineup against the Seattle Mariners. He was originally slated to play center field but, with a wet field, was moved to designated hitter in an updated lineup.
The initial lineup called for Aaron Hicks, who took over center field with Mullins out, to move to right field and Gunnar Henderson, who primarily handled leadoff duties, to bat sixth.
Now, Hicks will take center again and Anthony Santander moves from designated hitter to right field. But it’s still a return for Mullins, who made rapid progress.
“This is an injury I’ve never dealt with before, so it was really no idea in my head what the timeline would be like,” Mullins said. “My body was responding really well in Florida, and I was progressing every single day, kind of pushed the leg a little bit to the point it feels really good.”
Manager Brandon Hyde said Mullins’ swift return was the “best-case scenario” for Baltimore. Mullins said this groin strain reminded him of a hamstring injury in 2017, but the 28-year-old was optimistic the latest injury wouldn’t keep him sidelined as long. He was right.
Mullins said that, during his Triple-A Norfolk rehab games, he wasn’t as concerned with his swing as he was with running — “like how does my body react to a shift in position, change in angles, running straight at good speeds?”
Mullins — who was an All-Star two summers ago and a Silver Slugger winner — is hard to replace. He was hitting .263 with a .356 OBP at the time of his injury. The Orioles, though, managed to get by just fine. They went 11-9 in Mullins’ absence, maintaining their second-place standing in the American League East.
“There was a lot of concern when we lost Ced,” Hyde said. “Twenty games, hopefully we were going to respond the way we did. We could’ve played better. There were some games in there where we didn’t play our best baseball, 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 we did that.”
The Orioles have a new face to thank for that: Hicks, whom they signed the day after Mullins’ injury. Hicks was released by the New York Yankees just days earlier, and the Orioles were interested in him prior to Mullins’ getting hurt. But, with their center fielder out and their top center field prospect injured at the time, adding Hicks became a necessity.
Hicks has more than delivered. He’s hitting .310 with three home runs in 19 games with the Orioles, a remarkable turnaround from the .188 batting average he put up with the Yankees before his release. Although Hicks hasn’t played right field as much because Aaron Judge held down that position in New York, that’s where the 33-year-old Hicks may find himself more often when Mullins is back in the field. Hicks hasn’t played right field since 2017.
Hyde said Hicks will play all three outfield positions now. Santander will find himself as a designated hitter more frequently.
“He’s played outfield his whole life,” Hyde said of Hicks. “Feel really good with those three outfielders we have out there right now, and we’re just so much more athletic this year. This team is a really athletic team. And Hicksy has played really well for us defensively.”
In addition to Mullins’ return, the Orioles called up left-hander Bruce Zimmermann to provide long relief. They optioned utility man Josh Lester and right-hander Logan Gillaspie.
Hyde also said right-hander Kyle Bradish will start the series finale against Seattle on Sunday and left-hander Cole Irvin will start Monday against the Cincinnati Reds.