BALTIMORE—With his batting average at just .094, the Orioles decided that Cedric Mullins needed to find his offensive stroke. On Monday, they optioned the 24-year-old centerfielder to Triple-A Norfolk.
Mullins had just six hits in 64 at-bats, and was 2-for-40 after enduring a rough spring training when he hit just .151. The switch-hitting Mullins was 5-for-49 (.102) hitting right-handed and 1-for-15 (.067) left-handed.
“Cedric’s off to a tough start offensively,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I love the way he was playing defense. He’s really contributed defensively. We just felt like from a confidence standpoint, work on some things, get some more at-bats.”
Mullins’ best day offensively came on April 8 when he had two triples, but those were his only extra-base hits.
“He’s been scuffling,” Hyde said. “He’s a big part of our club going forward and for the future, and we want to see him have success.”
Mullins came up last August 10 and supplanted Adam Jones in center field. He hit .235 with a .312 on-base percentage in 45 games. Mullins had four home runs and 11 RBIs last season.
“We thought the best thing for him was to go down there, kind of clean slate the season, work on a few things offensively, and hopefully come back here soon.”
For the moment, the Orioles’ centerfielder is Joey Rickard. Stevie Wilkerson, whose contract was selected from Triple-A Norfolk, has recently played two games in center, and Hyde says he can play there.
“We don’t have much experience in center field right now,” Hyde said. “That’s why it’s a bit of a blow.”
It was a move the Orioles were reluctant to make because of Mullins’ prominence. Along with Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens and Trey Mancini, Mullins was singled out by general manager Mike Elias as building blocks in an email to season ticket-holders.
“He just got off to a tough start this year, and never got going,” Hyde said. “The main thing is confidence. When you scuffle for a while, you can press. It gets mental. We thought the best thing for him was to go down there in a different environment, little bit less pressure, and work on taking great at-bats and compete at the plate.”
During spring training, Austin Hays hit well and was given opportunities to play center, but he was sent down and sprained his left thumb sliding headfirst into second base on a stolen base attempt.
Hays, who is in extended spring training in Sarasota, is still not ready to play, giving the Orioles no real center field alternative in the minor leagues.
Hyde said the move to send Mullins down wasn’t delayed because of that.
“We were sticking with Cedric until we felt like it was the right thing to do for him,” he said.
Wilkerson, who hit .174 with three RBIs in 16 games last season with the Orioles, was taken off the 40-man roster on March 23 when catcher Pedro Severino was claimed on waivers.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Wilkerson said. “I was a bit disappointed, naturally. I had a tough spring, and that’s the nature of the business. It’s a performance industry…I just kept on trucking. It’s a funny game. You experience highs and you experience lows. Unfortunately, I choose to do each of the extremes far too often.”
At Norfolk, Wilkerson was hitting .316 with two home runs and 10 RBIs.
“Stevie’s been playing well down there,” Hyde said. “Stevie adds some versatility for us, a guy that can play multiple spots, can play outfield positions as well as infield positions.
“…He’s going to play a lot. He switch-hits. That’s a big factor as well.”
Wilkerson, who started in left field for the first time in the majors on Monday night, said that he’s not afraid to try center field.
“It’s still a bit new to me,” he said. “I feel fine out there. I played there the last couple of games at Norfolk. I feel fairly comfortable everywhere.”