Before he went to the Home Run Derby last month, Trey Mancini set the stage for an important second half for the Orioles: even rebuilding clubs need to start winning at some point, and he believed that time had come.
Coming out of the All-Star break, both he and the Orioles were meeting that standard. But as the team has swooned in August, so has Mancini.
The Orioles’ star first baseman is in another slump in a season that has seemed to feature more of them than usual. When he outlined his hopes for the team to get back on track Thursday, he said that included himself “maybe more than anybody.”
“I think Trey’s OK mentally,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I think he swung the bat really well out of the All-Star break, and he’s scuffling a little bit.”
After coming out of his Home Run Derby success batting .310 with a .930 OPS and three home runs, Mancini has cooled since August began. He’s 6-for-40 (.150) without a home run this month, and such streaks have been hard to break at times this year, contributing to his .257 average and .773 OPS with 19 home runs.
Mancini, who missed all of 2020 because of colon cancer, returned with plenty of fanfare but struggled out of the gate. He hit .237 with a .742 OPS in April, but from May 1, he went on a 40-game run in which he hit .303 with an .897 OPS, representing his best stretch of the season.
But things turned sour again for him until the All-Star break, when he hit .187 with a .684 OPS in 20 games. That breakout period after the break was promising, but Mancini now finds himself back in a cycle of frustration with how he’s hitting.
His strikeout rates have been relatively stable all year, but a telltale sign of Mancini’s fortunes this year has been the frequency with which he’s rolling over the ball and grounding out to the left side of the field. He did it often in April as he struggled, then in May he started driving the ball to turn his results around.
He entered Friday’s game hitting the ball on the ground 50% of the time in August, and 38.5% of his contact is being pulled to the left side — his highest rate for any month since April.
When those struggles were ongoing, Mancini and hitting coach Don Long went back to what felt best for Mancini during his standout 2019 season. Mancini found his form for a while, but joked before and after the Home Run Derby that his swing was in such a bad place entering that event that he didn’t have to worry about the myth that it affects players’ swings.
Mancini’s honesty in how he feels he’s performing is a trait that earns him plenty of fans, but also betrays just how consuming any kind of rough patch can be for any player, let alone someone as competitive as he is.
Hyde’s declaration that Mancini was doing well mentally came after being asked whether the first baseman could be moved down the lineup. While he has the best track record of any Orioles hitter, he’s in an important spot in the lineup and hasn’t driven in a run since July 28, a span of 13 games.
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A few hot games can move a hitter up quickly in this Orioles lineup; Anthony Santander and DJ Stewart show Hyde’s ready to ride the hot hand. Mancini will soon be able to count himself among them, but for now, it will be up to Mancini to pull himself out of it.