NEW YORK — Frequently this year, amid a season that has been a struggle occasionally for him and often for his team, Trey Mancini has taken a deep breath.
For the Orioles’ longest-tenured player, it’s a way to clear a mind that has had an awful lot racing through it over the past 18 months. In his comeback campaign after losing 2020 to stage 3 colon cancer, Mancini has adopted in-game breathing routines, hoping to slow himself and the game down.
It seemed to work Friday, when he homered off a high fastball from New York Yankees left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. The solo shot was his first home run since Aug. 14, a hit that accounted for his only longball of that month and one of his four RBIs.
Through two September games, he’s halfway to the latter total. He said it’s “extremely important” that he finish strong, and his start to the season’s last full month is a sign he intends to follow through.
“I think it’s no secret that this year has been — I hate to use the word grind, but it has, every single day, from a mental standpoint, just kind of living with what I have to live with,” Mancini said. “I know it’s the reality, and I don’t want to get too deep into it. I’ll talk about it more at the end of the season. But it’s tough, but at the same time, whenever the game starts, you got to get all that out of your mind and go out there and play your best and then try to clear your mind. But it’s definitely been a challenge a lot, but I’m really trying to finish strong.”
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Mancini hit .224/.248/.306 in August, a batting line buoyed by a nine-game stretch at the month’s end in which he hit .342 but with little power. Early in the season, he was performing up to the standard he set in 2019, when he earned Most Valuable Oriole honors with an .899 OPS and 35 home runs. Friday’s marked his 21st, and it raised his OPS to .770.
Mancini posted a 1.049 OPS in September of 2019, a year in which his groundball rate declined from the previous season the most of any American League player. That season’s successes show his capability of adjusting, a trait that could be useful as he looks to end the season at a place he can be pleased with.
Last month’s struggles began mentally, Mancini said, but trickled into his swing mechanics. He’s working to correct them while playing the Orioles’ daunting American League East schedule.
“I try not to think about the physical things too much because normally it starts up here,” Mancini said. “But I have noticed a lot of things going on in my swing that I haven’t particularly liked, but at the same time, you can’t go out there during the game and try to fix it when you’re facing who we face on a nightly basis, so it takes a while to show up. But I feel like in the last week or so, I’ve had certain nights, especially tonight, where I felt better and you kind of look for things to feel good about, especially when you haven’t really felt your best by and large most of the year.”
Mancini is routinely hard on himself. By OPS+, he is an above-average major leaguer this season. With the context of him returning from cancer, “above average” does little justice.
For that reason, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde isn’t looking to add pressure to his middle-of-the-order fixture with any declaration of how he’ll perform down the stretch.
“I’m not putting any stock in if he’s gonna finish strong or not,” Hyde said. “He’s been hard on himself lately, and he’s scuffled a little bit as of late, and it’s nice to see him really stay behind one and drive one like he did. Hopefully that makes him feel good, and he continues to swing the bat like that. But, yeah, listen, he’s gonna have ups and downs. And he’s just extremely tough on himself. It was a really good swing and hopefully, it continues.”