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Here's a question for you: On March 15, what do you think the odds were against Caleb Joseph and Trey Mancini being tied for the Orioles' batting lead in late July?

Of course, it would have been considered a prohibitive long shot, but Joseph and Mancini are batting .304 going into Saturday night's rain-threatened game against the Houston Astros.

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"Numbers are deceiving," joked Joseph, who obviously is taking none of this for granted.

Outside of on-field performance, the Orioles have plenty to weigh in determining a course at the July 31 trade deadline

He's the same guy who did not have a single RBI last year, but all the work he did while he was suffering through that drought seems to be paying off this year.

"When the bat head stays in the zone for a longer period of time, you can mishit balls and still get desired results," Joseph said. "And a lot of the stuff I was working on last year is coming out.

"I've hit quite a few balls hard, but I've also hit quite a few balls that were fortunate to find holes."

The secret isn't anything akin to brain surgery. It's all about having a plan for wherever you are in the pitch count. That plan has worked out particularly well over the past month, as evidenced by Joseph's .472/.500/.722 slash line over his past 12 games (10 starts). He has two homers, three doubles, seven RBIs and a 1.222 OPS over that period.

"The thing I'm most happy about, I went through a process of talking to the hitting coaches, Scott Coolbaugh and Howie Clark," Joseph said. "You have to put the ego aside when you get to two strikes and choke up and try and barrel the baseball, and not try to barrel it as hard as I can. Just barrel the baseball.

"About half of my hits (22 of 48) have been with two strikes this year. I truly believe that's one of the reasons my average is up, because I made a huge adjustment with two strikes. I'm trying to refuse to give in with two strikes."

Maybe the Orioles should not be shocked by the terrific offensive performance of Mancini, who was considered their top hitting prospect coming into spring training, but the re-emergence of Joseph as a threat at the plate provides a benefit to the team that goes way beyond his part-time stats.

If the Orioles decide to trade starting catcher Welington Castillo by the July 31 nonwaiver deadline, and side-step the guaranteed player option he holds on next season, they can be confident that the catching position is in adequate hands for the remainder of the season.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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