On Thursday’s Orioles day off, Trey Mancini said hitting coach Don Long texted him with what he thought could be a key to unlocking the sluggers swing he’s been searching for all spring.
The resulting work helped Mancini drive his first home run of the spring Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates on a day that he thought could represent a turning point in his comeback from colon cancer.
“It felt really good,” Mancini said. “It’s been no different feeling for a lot of spring trainings. It kind of takes me a while to get it going again and start driving the ball like that. … It was definitely good to connect with one there. It had been a long time since I had that feeling, for sure.”
Mancini, who turned 29 on Thursday, singled in the first inning before hitting the sixth straight slider from Edgar Santana deep to left-center field for his first extra-base hit of the spring.
It’s been a steady progression for Mancini, who was away from the game for nearly a year in 2020 after being diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer early in spring training.
Mancini had surgery to remove a malignant tumor on March 12, 2020 and had six months of chemotherapy that end in September.
His comeback has been one of the feel-good stories of camp, with the fans at Ed Smith Stadium giving him a standing ovation on his debut Feb. 28, and he collected a hit in his first at-bat. But that, like the ensuing eight hits he had, were all singles before Friday’s home run.
While Mancini thinks he’s ready for a full season after starting work outs in the fall to prepare his body, that didn’t change how his springs typically go.
“It’s about on par with what I expected,” Mancini said. “I knew that there would be some at-bats where I felt like I never left, and then some at-bats where I just felt overmatched for whatever reason. It’s been like that pretty consistently for the most part, and even within the same game. One at-bat I’ll feel great and I’ll strike out the next two and be like, ‘What is going on?’ I will have that thought sometimes, but that’s how I am every spring. It’s no different from how I’ve been my entire life kind of gearing up for a season. I feel pretty good up there at the plate.”
His home run will certainly keep him from thinking that Friday.
Dean Kremer, who started the game for the Orioles, said the team was in awe of the drive, which went against the wind that was blowing out to right field and still nearly left LECOM Park entirely.
“That was a nuke,” he said. “That was hit pretty far. Everybody was with their jaw on the floor with how far it was hit. I mean, everybody loved it. It’s good to see him back to what he was in the previous years.”
Manager Brandon Hyde said this week that Mancini was showing everything he could ask for in the first half of spring training.
“My expectations for Trey are that I hope he feels good every day, and right now he does,” Hyde said. “He’s in a great place physically and mentally, so it’s just a day-to-day conversation between me and him if he’s ready to go the next day, and every day I’ve asked him, he is. So, that’s just going to continue for the rest of the season.”
If the Orioles could ask for anything to be happening on a more accelerated schedule for Mancini, it might be his re-acclimation to first base after spending years in the outfield accommodating Chris Davis.
He has three errors on his account so far this spring and has been on the receiving end of some less-than-ideal throws from the rest of the infielders that he hasn’t been able to scoop.
That progress will come with experience, but not being as ready on the infield dirt at this point in spring will undoubtedly frustrate a player who holds himself to a high standard.
“I feel like I have some things to work on,” Mancini said. “I’m shaking off some rust out there and I haven’t shown out there as well as I think I could, so I’m really trying to focus a lot on defense.”
Judge the errors
When the Orioles first went to Bradenton to play the Pirates on March 7, they brought a backup infield that played badly and got chided by Hyde for their defensive shortcomings.
It was a much better group out there Friday with Rio Ruiz at third, Freddy Galvis at shortstop and Yolmer Sánchez at second base. But each had a hand in giving the Pirates an extra base in a five-run fourth inning.
Sánchez bounced a relay throw that skipped past Mancini for a throwing error on a ball that dropped in between Ryan Mountcastle and Cedric Mullins in the outfield. Galvis also bounced a throw past Mancini on an ensuing ground ball to his right for an error, and Ruiz was late on a throw home on a ground ball trying to cut down a run later in the inning.
After Austin Hays bobbled a fly ball into the wall in the fifth inning, the Orioles had five errors — and that’s a statistic Hyde thinks accurately represents what happened.
Hays keeps hitting
Playing in right field and batting leadoff, Hays had no such hiccups at the plate Friday. He reached on an error in the first inning, drove in Mullins with a single in the second inning, and doubled down the left-field line to score Mullins in the sixth.
Hays is the Orioles’ top hitter this spring, leaving Friday’s game batting .387 with a 1.119 OPS this spring.
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He wasn’t the only one who looked at home in what could have been the Orioles’ Opening Day lineup. Mountcastle and Mullins added home runs.