Early in the season, Austin Hays sat in the Orioles dugout, perplexed by a slump.
He turned to his pal and fellow outfielder Cedric Mullins, who offered him some sage advice.
“I was a little bit out of control for some reason,” Hays said. “Things were speeding up on me. Before my last at-bat [April 24], I was talking to Cedric in the dugout and I told him I felt like I just wasn’t seeing the ball that well, and he’s like, ‘Why don’t you just try walking up to the plate a little bit slower, and all the stuff you do before, just try to slow it down.’ And I saw the ball a lot better my last at-bat [April 24] and then I just felt very comfortable [April 25].”
Hays and Mullins could be patrolling the outfield at Camden Yards for years to come. Hays has been a defensive stalwart in left and right field and Mullins has resurrected his career in center.
Mullins, 26, is having his best year as a pro, batting .323/.392/.536 with 76 hits, 17 doubles, 9 homers and 19 RBIs entering play June 11.
The 5-foot-8, 175-pound center fielder made the catch of the season June 1 against the Minnesota Twins when he sprinted into right-center field and made a sliding catch on the warning track to rob Nelson Cruz of extra bases. Mullins also had hits in nine straight at-bats against the Cleveland Indians June 5-6, one shy of the Orioles’ record set by Ken Singleton in 1981.
Much of Mullins’ success in 2021 can be attributed to his decision to stop being a switch-hitter and focus on hitting from the left side of the plate.
Entering this season, Mullins was a career .251/.305/.394 hitter with six home runs against right-handed pitching and a .147/.250/.189 hitter with one home run against lefties.
Mullins initially had discussions with former manager Buck Showalter, who managed the outfielder in late 2018, about giving up switch-hitting. Showalter encouraged him to make the switch.
“He said basically straight up if I wasn’t able to figure out my right side, that I’d go left-on-left,” Mullins said during spring training. “I was in agreement with him. I felt like he was going to make the best choice for my career and that I was going to work my butt off to do what I needed to do to continue to be competitive. And it went over with this regime pretty well as well. I know I tried to continue to switch-hit. That was just my pride getting ahead of me and trying to show that I could be different out on the field.
“But it’s OK, putting switch-hitting aside and just being productive left-on-left is what I’m moving forward with.”
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has kept Mullins at the top of the lineup since Opening Day, and the center fielder has been one of the bright spots through the team’s struggles. Hitting coach Don Long saw an increased level of confidence from Mullins before the regular season even began.
“As far as Cedric goes, I think just moving to the left side exclusively, I think he has that [confidence], where I don’t think he necessarily had that when he went up hitting right-handed,” Long said. “I think that’s a big factor. I think he believes that he can do it and so you can check that box. I’ve seen absolutely no give in a left-on-left situation like he doesn’t want to stick his nose in there.
“I see him wanting to do that and I think it’s something he’s really going to be able to do — one, because he believes he can do it and with more reps, I think he’s going to get better and better, and two, I see that because of the confidence from that side of the plate. I see a willingness to stay in there and make it happen.”
Hays, 25, has battled some injuries again this season. He went on the injured list with hamstring injuries in early April and late May. However, when Hays has been in the lineup, he has been an effective player. He was batting .252/.319/.455 with six doubles, two triples, five home runs and 15 RBIs in 32 games when he returned from the injured list June 11.
“Austin creates action,” Hyde said. “He’s got a chance to hit a homer, he’s got a chance to go in the gap. … I think he’s going to improve as a hitter. He stays on the ball well.”
The 6-foot, 205-pound outfielder just has to avoid the injury bug. Hays has dealt with shoulder, knee, ankle and hip issues throughout his professional career. He was also limited by a fractured rib last season.
“Most of them haven’t been soft tissue injuries like this past one,” Hays said, referring to his early-season hamstring troubles. “A lot of the other ones, they were just kind of freak things and stuff I felt like I had no control over. But as far as the hamstring goes, I’m just going to try to do a really good job with my hydration, my stretching and just preventative measures from here on out. Maybe I’ve been lacking in some of those areas, so I’ll just continue to do what I can, just stay on top of that stuff and keep my soft tissue in good shape.”
The rebuilding Orioles are enduring some growing pains. However, Mullins and Hays have shown promise and could be in the outfielder together for years to come.
Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Originally published June 16, 2021