TAMPA — The Orioles clubhouse was quiet on Wednesday morning, as is to be expected after a late game the night before.
A MLB Network show was on softly in the background, but most players were slumped in chairs, headphones on as they tried to wake themselves up for the 12:10 p.m. start.
Not Aaron Hicks.
He strode right in and connected his phone to the speakers to blast ’80s music. His hips started swaying back and forth, his arms slowly making his way above his head as he tried, and failed, to get his teammates into it. Hicks kept it going all morning, singing and dancing along to songs that came out before most of his teammates were even born.
Hicks was clearly in a jolly mood, and who wouldn’t be in the middle of the type of turnaround Hicks is experiencing?
Six weeks ago, he was in that same visitors clubhouse as a member of the Yankees. He was in the middle of a 4-for-37 stretch and had another empty day at the plate. The New York fans in Tampa booed him. By the time he was released in late May, Hicks was hitting just .188 with one home run.
Fast forward to Wednesday, and things are a completely different story. Originally just a fill-in for Cedric Mullins, Hicks has carved out a role for himself on this young team. And while that dancing didn’t translate to anything at the plate Wednesday in the Orioles 7-2 loss to the Rays, Hicks’ overall numbers show a brighter picture.
He’s hitting .321 with four home runs in 18 games with Baltimore so far. Some of that has to be credited to the swing adjustments he made, implementing pieces of what worked for him in 2018, his best season. But Hicks — who is now sporting facial hair, something that was banned by the Yankees — said he also thinks the daily playing time and his comfort level in the Orioles’ clubhouse have been big reasons for his early success with the Orioles.
“The opportunities weren’t really coming my way,” Hicks said of his time with the Yankees. “That was the situation that I was in. I had a rough year last year and now I have the opportunity here and I’m going to make the best of it.”
Mullins is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment on Wednesday with Triple-A Norfolk but has no timeline for his return. When he is back, the Orioles will have to tinker with their lineup if they want to keep both Hicks and Mullins in it daily. Both have spent majority of their careers in centerfield, but Hicks has played over 100 games each in left and right field. The Orioles can also put one in the designated hitter spot.
“He has given us a huge spark. He’s gotten big hits, played great defense for us,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s a veteran presence in our clubhouse and in our meetings and really performing well. We got really lucky when he was available and really happy with how he’s playing so far.”
On Wednesday, though, the Orioles didn’t get a spark from anyone. Tyler Wells allowed two solo home runs in the second inning, then two runs came in off errors from Wells. He allowed just one hit in the next three innings, but the damage was already done. The Orioles offense lagged, its only scores coming from solo home runs by Ramón Urías and Gunnar Henderson.