The Orioles' Memorial Day Game against the Cleveland Guardians was not so memorable; in fact, it was an afternoon they would prefer to forget. Not only did the Orioles get shut out in a 5-0 defeat at Camden Yards, but they also lost their leadoff hitter, defensive whiz, and offensive sparkplug, Cedric Mullins, to a right groin strain.
Baltimore Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins leaves memorial day game with injury
With the Orioles trailing Cleveland 5-0 and desperate for a base runner, Cedric Mullins came to the plate with one out and the bases empty against Guardians' reliever Enyel De Los Santos. Mullins swung at the first pitch and hit a bouncer to short, beelining out of the batter's box trying to beat out the incoming throw from shortstop Ahmed Rosario, and pulled up lame, grimacing and grabbing his right thigh. Terrin Vavra replaced him in the lineup on Monday, sending Ryan McKenna to centerfield. The Orioles lost 5-0.
But the loss to Cleveland was the least of the team's concerns. The 28-year-old centerfielder has arguably been the team's best player this season, a season that has included a breathtaking cycle against the Pirates earlier this month. If he is forced to miss time, which is looking likely, the Orioles would be without Mullins' stellar .835 OPS, 13 steals, and team-leading 1.8 WAR.
It is unclear how long Mullins will be out, but sprains and strains can be tricky, and a multi-week absence appears likely. "It’s the last thing you want to see,” Manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s a huge part of our team, and if we’re going to lose him for a little while, we’ll see, but if we have to, then other guys step up."
We will likely find out who "other guys" are on Tuesday, when the Orioles make a roster move to replace Mullins on the active roster and utilize a starting lineup without their star centerfielder. As of now the obvious choice to make the majority of starts in centerfield is Ryan McKenna. As solid as McKenna is as a backup outfielder, the drop off from Mullins to McKenna is palpable. McKenna, who has less career home runs than Mullins has this season through two months, has a meek .665 OPS this season and a 0.0 WAR. And while McKenna is a solid defender (notwithstanding the infamous, game-losing drop in the second game of the season in Fenway Park), Mullins covers significantly more ground in centerfield.
Mullins' injury also comes at an unfortunate time, as the Norfolk Tides' outfield has been ravaged by injuries of late. Indeed, Colton Cowser, who has been knocking (loudly) on the door for a callup, would have been a natural replacement if not for a recent injury that has placed him on the minor league IL. Kyle Stowers, who has frustrated at the Major League level but is still likely a part of the Orioles' future plans, is also on the IL.
Daz Cameron, the son of former Major League outfielder Mike Cameron, presents an interesting option to take Mullins' roster spot. He is hitting a solid .267/.359/.482 at Triple-A Norfolk and has accrued Major League experience with the Detroit Tigers. In fact, a callup of Cameron is my preference as opposed to giving McKenna everyday at bats in centerfield.
The Orioles could also recall an infielder, such as top prospect Jordan Westburg, to take Mullins' spot. Such a move would likely transition Terrin Vavra from a utility player to a full time outfielder, with McKenna again securing the majority of starts in center. Another possible, but unlikely, scenario would involve the team putting Jorge Mateo in centerfield and recalling Westburg to join Gunnar Henderson, Ramon Urias, and Adam Frazier in the crowded infield picture. I do not see this option as likely, however. As athletic as Mateo is, his best position is shortstop, and the Orioles are robbing Peter to pay Paul by creating a whole at shortstop to have him fill Mullins' absence.
Time will tell as what player, or players, the Orioles call upon to play centerfield in place of Mullins. But it is quite clear that whoever the player is, he will not simply 'replace" Mullins. Frankly, no one can, considering the massive contributions Mullins had made to the 34-20 Orioles. Instead, the Orioles' best bet is to hope for a quick and full recovery for Mullins and a return to centerfield sometime in late June, depending on the severity of the injury. But suffice to say, Memorial Day at Camden Yards will be remembered for all the wrong reasons: a shutout loss to Cleveland, and the loss of the Orioles sparkplug centerfielder.