Checking in on some Orioles' concerns - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

Checking in on some Orioles’ concerns

Photo Credit: Brad Penner USA TODAY Sports

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SAN FRANCISCO—The Orioles’ season is just over one-third complete, and as they begin a six-game road trip against the San Francisco Giants and Milwaukee Brewers, they’re still on pace for 101 wins despite losing two consecutive series for the first time this season.

On Monday, the Orioles suffered their most serious injury of the season when centerfielder Cedric Mullins suffered a strained right groin.

Mullins has a 1.7 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), and while he wasn’t on pace to again hit both 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases as he did in 2021, his offense and defense will prove hard to replace.

With 13 steals in 15 attempts, a season with 40 stolen bases was certainly within reach.

For now, the Orioles will replace Mullins with a combination of Austin Hays, Ryan McKenna and the just-signed Aaron Hicks, who left Wednesday’s game with a cramp in his left calf.

Hicks hadn’t played in 12 days when he played his final game with the New York Yankees before they cut ties with him.

The Orioles felt they had little choice but to sign Hicks because their two top left-handed hitting outfield prospects, Colton Cowser and Kyle Stowers are both out with injuries. Cowser’s left quad injury isn’t considered serious according to executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.

Elias didn’t offer a timetable for Mullins’ return, but if he’s out six weeks, as seems possible, he won’t return until after the All-Star game.

Who’s the fifth starter? After Grayson Rodriguez was demoted after his rough start on May 26th, the Orioles were left without a fifth starter.

Rodriguez’s turn came up on Wednesday and manager Brandon Hyde decided to go with Austin Voth in bulk relief after he used Keegan Akin as the opener.

Akin pitched an inning, butVoth was out of pitches after just 2 1/3 innings, and Hyde used seven pitchers—all his relievers except for Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano—in an ugly 12-8 loss to Cleveland.

We’ll see if there are any changes to the bullpen for Friday night’s game at Oracle Park, but when the fifth starter’s turn comes again on June 6th in Milwaukee, it likely will be someone else besides Voth.

Cole Irvin, who was sent down to Triple-A Norfolk after three poor starts and brought back for one brief relief appearance at Toronto on May 20th, had to remain at Norfolk for 15 days, but will be eligible to pitch for that start.

Irvin has had two strong starts for the Tides, four runs on seven hits in 11 innings.

Is the bullpen tired? Bryan Baker has pitched in 27 games, just under half the Orioles’ 56 games, and he’s on pace to appear in 78 games, which would tie Chad Bradford for the second-most in team history. Jamie Walker’s 81 games in 2007 is the team record.

Bautista pitched in 26. Mike Baumann and Danny Coulombe have both been in 25 games.

Despite not pitching for the Orioles for the season’s first two weeks, Cano has already been in 23 games, and his 29 innings are second only to Baumann’s 30.

Bruce Zimmermann, who has yet to pitch for the Orioles this season was supposed to start for Norfolk on Thursday but didn’t. He could provide multiple innings for the tired Orioles bullpen.

Who’s most valuable? It will be months until the Most Valuable Oriole balloting is conducted, and perhaps Mullins will return and compile statistics impressive enough for consideration. His 30-30 season won him an MVO in 2021, and Adley Rutschman was elected last season.

Cano and Bautista have been incredibly valuable, but in the absence of Mullins, Austin Hays could become even more valuable.

Hays, who has a 1.5 WAR, is hitting .311 with six home runs and 23 RBIs. His .859 OPS is just ahead of Anthony Santander’s .857 and Rutschman’s .853.

Santander, who was hitting .213 with two home runs, 11 RBIs and a 1.056 OPS at the end of April had a wonderful May. He hit .337 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs and a 1.056 OPS.

If Santander can put together a few more months like that, he could win his second MVO. He won the award in 2020’s 60-game season.

Minor league update: Shortstop Jordan Westburg hit his 15th home run as Triple-A Norfolk beat Gwinnett 5-2.

Nick Vespi allowed one hit in two scoreless innings for his seventh save. Shortstop Joey Ortiz is out due to illness.

Leftfielder Donta’ Williams had three hits as Double-A Bowie lost to Harrisburg 6-5.

Four High-A Aberdeen pitchers, Jean Pinto, Dan Hammer, Ignacio Feliz and Graham Firoved combined on a two-hitter in the IronBirds’ 1-0 win over Hudson Valley.

Catcher Brayan Hernández, second baseman Carter Young and rightfielder Angel Tejada each homered in Single-A Delmarva’s 8-7 loss to Fredericksburg.

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