TORONTO — The bruises along Trey Mancini’s left leg were the only negative marks from a stretch that earned him American League Player of the Week honors.
Soreness from a pair of pitches that hit him left Mancini out of Sunday’s lineup, but his overall batting line of .462/.484/.846 with two home runs and 10 RBIs in the week’s first six games secured him the first weekly honor of his career. He might be on his way to monthly honors, also, entering Monday batting .354/.404/.620 in September.
“We’re all so motivated to finish the year strong and ending on a good note as a team,” Mancini said. “I’ve been saying that all month. It’s really important to go into the offseason and next season feeling good about yourselves and how you finished the year ’cause it’s a 162-game season. Even in Game 154 or Game 157, no matter what it is, you’ve got to come out with the same fire and same intensity that you did in Game 1. That’s our job.”
Mancini has been the Orioles’ most consistent player throughout the year, earning the distinction of Most Valuable Oriole over the weekend. Both he and manager Brandon Hyde credited his recent uptick to improved discipline, especially against inside pitches.
For the season, only two right-handed batters have swung at more fastballs in the inner third of the strike zone or off it than Mancini.
“I’ve gotten much better recently at laying off that inside pitch because a lot of times they throw inside to you, you maybe try to cheat to it a little bit, and that exposes you to offspeed [pitches] away,” Mancini said. “I’ve been trying not to budge on pitches in there and get in better counts, and if you get in better counts, you’re gonna get more pitches to hit.”
And when Mancini has gotten fastballs to hit, he’s often capitalized. Of his 34 home runs, 21 have been hit up the middle or the other way off fastballs. No major leaguer has more.
Four of Mancini’s five September home runs have come since the Orioles’ first game of their series against the Detroit Tigers, a road trip during which Hyde and Mancini met to discuss his season and areas of focus for the offseason. During the meeting, Hyde emphasized to Mancini that “good things happen when he gets the ball in the air.”
“My one-on-one conversation with him was about the kind of year he’s had and how much better I think he can actually be as a hitter and some things that I feel like would really help him,” Hyde said. “He was in total agreement, and he just happened to have a good week after that. I don’t want to put any stock into that. But I think going forward, into spring training, this is a guy that, I told him, he’s a 40-plus home run guy, especially in our ballpark, without problems, if he’s just able to lay off the pitcher’s pitches, especially early in the count, and that’s what he did this past week.
“Hopefully, he has one more week like that.”
Hays in good company
Mancini was not alone in earning distinction among Orioles, as rookie center fielder Austin Hays’ home-run robbery of the Toronto Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was named MLB Play of the Week. As Hays prepared to discuss the honor in the Orioles’ clubhouse before Monday’s game with the Blue Jays, MLB Network showed he had won a fan poll to be the top candidate for Catch of the Year. He dethroned New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks, whose game-saving catch against the Minnesota Twins in late July had held that top spot since.
The honors were especially pleasing to Hays given that he didn’t expect to be in the majors when the month began. The Orioles decided to promote the 24-year-old only because of a rule change that will allow him to also participate in the Arizona Fall League after the season.
“It’s really cool to get that recognition late in the year, especially since a couple weeks ago, I just thought I was home for the season, I thought making it to the big leagues was kind of out of the window, so it’s a nice recognition at the end of the year,” Hays said. “It’s just really cool, it seems like, to have everything come together at the end of the year.”
Hays’ robbery has been compared to Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout’s denial of the Orioles’ J.J. Hardy in 2012, given that it happened at practically the same spot at Oriole Park. Although he eclipsed Hicks, Hays had no interest in claiming his play’s superiority to Trout’s.
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“I’m gonna say Trout, man,” Hays said with a laugh. “I’m gonna say that his was better. I’ve looked up to that guy for a long time. He’s one of the best to ever do it, so I’m going with his.”