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For Orioles, Trey Mancini at leadoff spot 'a good fit so far in a time of need'

A leadoff spot that was a cause for furor over the first five games of the season when occupied by Chris Davis has settled down quite nicely for the Orioles in the past five with Trey Mancini batting atop the order.

After a couple poor hitting performances from Mancini in the leadoff spot in spring training, manager Buck Showalter has seen more of what he expected from the second-year outfielder. His calm approach, his active mind at the plate, and his willingness to take the pitch and adapt his swing has made the experiment look less temporary by the day.

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"I think in spring training, it was a coincidence more so that I didn't have good games, but I've never been opposed to being leadoff," Mancini said. "I actually like it — getting up there first and trying to set the tone for the game. It's a cool opportunity, and something that I certainly never got an opportunity to do when I was younger — you needed a sundial to measure me running, so nobody ever considered putting me at leadoff. But it's pretty cool. It's still kind of almost surreal to see my name up there, but I really like it a lot."

Said Showalter: "It's been a good fit so far in a time of need."

The crowd at Camden Yards — a meager 7,915 — was the smallest in the history of the ballpark, if you don’t count April 29, 2015, when the fans were locked out for a game against the Chicago White Sox in the wake of the Freddie Gray unrest. The previous record low was 9,129.

Mancini hit leadoff some last September as the Orioles went young with their lineup, but has found plenty of success in a five-game sample entering Tuesday. A three-hit day Monday brought his batting line to .391/.481/.435 as the No. 1 hitter, and .279/.373/.372 on the season.

That most of his hits this year, especially since he moved to leadoff, have been singles isn't much of a concern to him or Showalter. The manager has long said that the barometer for Mancini's success was whether he'd keep his approach as sound as it is while the temptation of gaudy power statistics and the arbitration awards that come with it loomed.

Even if it's on singles the other way through the infield, Mancini is still hitting the ball hard, with 10 of his 18 batted balls since he came to the leadoff spot measured at 100 mph or harder off the bat, according to data from BaseballSavant.com.

He's always been a player whose power came as a byproduct of good swings and a good approach, so that he's only homered once this season (though a second was robbed at the wall) with one other extra-base hit isn't something he'll try to correct at the expense of anything else.

"I don't think of that," Mancini said. "Usually, the power comes when you don't try to bring it. Especially the last few games, I've just been trying to take what they've given me. I've maybe gotten a couple pitches to drive, but maybe fouled them back and missed them. But later in the count, just trying to use the opposite field like I've always tried to do. It's, I think, more coincidence that I've kind of been getting some hits over there."

The same goes for whether Mancini has adapted a modern "leadoff approach," which dictates that he sees a lot of pitches and gets on base. But that's not exclusive to the top batter in the lineup. His take on how to go into his first at-bat is what it would be in any inning and at any lineup spot.

"You want to make sure to try and have a good at-bat and see some pitches so everybody can kind of get a feel for what he's doing up there," Mancini said. "But I haven't tried to change anything at all, and that's what Buck told me when he told me I'd be leading off. He said, 'Don't change a thing.' You possibly can only lead off once a game, too. I have been enjoying it though."

"He's got range with his bat," Showalter said. "You can't stay in one place on him. But I don't see him having changed anything expect he has to get off the field and get his stuff on and get ready to hit."

Whether it's because of where he's hit lately or just the maturation of a smart hitter, Mancini's lack of power numbers are mitigated by an improvement elsewhere. Monday was his 163rd major league game, meaning he's got a full season of at-bats on his resume now. That has given him a better command of the major league strike zone, and his nine strikeouts to seven walks in 2018 illustrates that. In 2017, he struck out 139 times with 33 walks, and didn't have a single month with more than eight walks.

In a lineup where such skills aren't often found, there's value in Mancini — who still has the power to match his peers if he needs to — providing a different look, especially at the top.

"I say this a lot and it is a big-time baseball cliché, but hitting really is contagious," Mancini said. "There's not really a perfect explanation for it, but it just gives everybody else confidence when other guys go up and have good at-bats and have some success. It kind of gets the ball rolling and gives everybody some confidence and everybody knows it can be done."

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