In wild-card race, Orioles’ performance against left-handed pitchers could be the difference

Brandon Hyde has avoided these types of matchups lately. The Orioles manager has sat outfielder Cedric Mullins against the last five left-handed starters Baltimore has faced, and Hyde said Wednesday that Mullins hasn’t looked as “comfortable” against southpaws this season.

But with left-hander Yusei Kikuchi coming out of the bullpen Friday for the Toronto Blue Jays, Mullins strode to the plate against a southpaw in the fourth inning. And after six pitches, Mullins stood on third base, having driven a triple into the right-center gap for just his ninth extra-base hit against a left-hander this season.

Putting too much stock into one at-bat can be a fool’s errand; after all, Kikuchi has been relegated to a bullpen role for Toronto because of how erratic he’s been. But when rookie catcher Adley Rutschman hit his first home run from the right side of the plate in the 6-3 loss, the breakout plays from the pair of stars provided something long unseen.

For so much of this season, Mullins and Rutschman — two of the Orioles’ best hitters — have struggled against left-handed pitching. With consecutive blasts, one finding the gap and the other leaving the yard, there’s a sign of hope. As the Orioles embark on the final 19 games of a postseason push, any improvement against southpaw pitching could go a long way.

“We’ve had our struggles against left-handed pitching in general,” Hyde said. “It would be big if we could get those guys going against left-handed pitchers.”

Entering Friday, Baltimore’s .229 batting average against left-handers is the sixth lowest in the majors. The team’s .678 OPS against southpaws is the eighth lowest. And the Orioles’ weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 94 is below average across the league. Few teams strike out as much as Baltimore does against lefties (24.9%).

That extends to Mullins and Rutschman, who often lead the lineup and have generated the most wins above replacement on the team.

Yet their numbers are vastly different against left-handers, with Mullins adapting to his second year of facing left-on-left matchups after giving up switch hitting and Rutschman still finding his footing from the right side as a switch hitter.

It’s an interesting development after Rutschman raked from the right side at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2021, posting a .350 average as a right-handed hitter compared with a .256 average as a lefty.

When Rutschman turned on a fastball from Kikuchi and lashed it down the left field line to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead Friday, it marked the rookie’s first major league homer as a right-handed hitter. He entered Friday with an .886 OPS against righties and a .517 OPS against lefties, providing just five extra-base hits against southpaws before that long ball.

Mullins has struggled in a similar fashion, hitting .812 against righties yet .554 against lefties. Those splits have led Hyde to sit Mullins, a 2021 All-Star, against left-handed starters of late; the last time Mullins started against a lefty was Aug. 8 against Kikuchi.

“I’ve been working on it the entire year, regardless …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – Sports


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