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Orioles left fielder Trey Mancini learning to grind through adversity since knee injury

One of the reasons the Orioles love Trey Mancini so much is because he doesn't let too much get to him. And throughout the team's dive into the American League East cellar, Mancini has been one of the Orioles' most consistent players, both at the plate and in the field.

He's done that despite the fact that things haven't exactly gone his way. He's been robbed of home runs and had extra-base hits taken away by diving catches in the gap. Then on April 20, his right knee found the only part of Camden Yards' left-field brick wall in foul ground that wasn't padded while he was attempting to make a sliding play on a fly ball. In some ways he was lucky the injury wasn't worse, but his knee swelled and suffered a gash that required stitches. And he's struggled some since.

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On Friday, he wore a bulky brace and wrap over his right knee – something that wasn't too noticeable without a hard look – because after chasing another foul ball to the wall in left Thursday, he reached into the seating bowl to make the catch, but not before he hit the same knee hard enough to prompt some bleeding from the stitches.

Mancini has become a fine left fielder, especially given that he didn't play the outfield until last spring training. Since then, he's become a confident defender, which he has shown on the field and in the battles scars he's playing with.

"It's something that you really can't think about too much," Mancini said. "It's a lot like hitting. You can't think, 'I need to make this play, I have to make this play.' You need [to think], 'I'm going to make this play.' A lot of it is about mentality."

Again, the 26-year-old Mancini has been one of the team's best players. He hasn't gone through a real sophomore slump, and it's difficult to imagine where the Orioles would be without him as they entered Saturday with a 7-19 record.

During spring training, Mancini focused on working through something different. Last year, he was trying to make the Opening Day roster while adapting to a new position, but through a long spring he concentrated on grinding through stretches when he didn't feel good physically or mentally.

Even though Mancini was one of the Orioles' most consistent contributors last season – his OPS never dipped below .726 in any single month – he wanted to be better at that this season.

"He doesn't let things snowball too much," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He may have a couple [difficult] at-bats the first two at-bats, and then all of a sudden he's got three hits on the night. Whatever happened behind him [doesn't bother him]. It's a really good trait for a young player to have."

Mancini's clearly not 100 percent physically with his knee, and even though he's provided the team with a spark from the leadoff spot, he wasn't immune to the team's offensive struggles of the first month.

In Thursday's 9-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, Mancini – who is the team's top opposite-field hitter — had an RBI double and a single, both times going the other way off pitches from starter Chris Archer. But Mancini couldn't help but think about his final two at-bats, when he came up with two on and one out in both the sixth and eighth innings and hit into a double play each time.

"It's frustrating, and I think [Thursday], I didn't do a good job in those situations — kind of all year — with runners in scoring position. And that's something I pride myself on, something I did well last year, and something I haven't been doing a good job with this year for whatever reason," Mancini said. "I don't know if I'm tightening up or changing my approach whenever guys are there, but there's no excuse for grounding into double plays like that in those situations."

Mancini entered Saturday 2-for-18 this season with runners in scoring position — a .111 batting average — after ending last season with a .340 average and 1.091 OPS with runners in scoring position.

"Obviously, in those situations, you want nothing more than to hit a home run or something like that, but if you're thinking about hitting a home run, you're probably not [going to]," Mancini said. "You're probably grounding into a double play. It's just something where you can't try to do too much. The two at-bats before, I really wasn't thinking. I was just going up there, I was a little more relaxed, and in the other two situations I was probably trying to do too much and I tightened up a little bit. I was maybe going out and trying to get to balls instead of letting them come to me."

But the fact that Mancini — who entered Saturday's game 2-for-13 overall since initially injuring his knee — has the moxie and self-awareness to constantly evaluate himself is part of why he's managed to be consistent, avoid deep slumps and overcome adversity.

"Every once in a while, you have to remind yourself how young he is and his experience level," Showalter said. "But he's one of those guys who doesn't have an ego hitting. He's not looking up there and saying, 'Oh gosh, I only have two home runs. I've got to do this. This guy is going to keep throwing me out there. I'm going to hit him down the right-field line.' He's as good a hitter as we've got like that. Sometimes I wish we could do more of that."

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