BALTIMORE -- Given the schedule’s late date, the Orioles learned on Tuesday how injuries that crop up in mid-September come with the potential for sidelining players through the rest of the regular season. To that end, will Trey Mancini return to the field in 2021?
The answer to that question remained unclear by the conclusion of Tuesday’s series-opening 7-2 loss to the Yankees, after Mancini exited in the fourth due to right abdominal soreness. Though Mancini has been battling lingering side pain for several weeks, his removal came hours after the Orioles placed reliever Tanner Scott (left knee sprain) and infielder Jorge Mateo (back strain) on the injured list, effectively ending their seasons.
Like Scott and Mateo, Mancini spent the stretch run attempting to manage his discomfort. But so far it is yet to dissipate, and oblique injuries are notoriously tricky to treat. Mancini sat out four of the past eight games ahead of Tuesday’s tilt, then walked in his only plate appearance against Gerrit Cole before being removed for a pinch-hitter in the fourth. Speaking after the game, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde characterized the move as precautionary.
“We are hoping it's not very serious,” Hyde said. “He just felt it a little bit in his first [plate appearance], and we talked after the inning. I didn’t want to make it any worse. We’re hoping it feels better tomorrow.”
Without him, the Orioles mustered little against Cole and two Yankees relievers, breaking through only on Ryan Mountcastle’s fifth-inning RBI double and Kelvin Gutierrez’s ninth-inning RBI single. That wasn’t enough after the Yankees hit three homers off Alexander Wells -- big flies from Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit that tagged the rookie with five runs in four innings. They bloated Wells’ ERA to 7.76 across his first eight big league appearances (five starts).
If the Orioles decide to shut down Mancini, it will mark the end of a triumphant first season back from Stage 3 colon cancer, during which Mancini inspired millions with his resiliency and made an outsized impact both on the field and off. He proved healthy and durable, appearing in 133 of 143 possible games through mid-September. He proved productive, hitting .261/.335/.451 with 21 homers, 66 RBIs and a 110 OPS+ less than a year removed from a six-month slate of chemotherapy treatments.
And he will almost certainly be recognized for his efforts. Mancini is a near-lock to be named Comeback Player of the Year, an award his opponents were advocating for him to win as early as April. He is the Orioles’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, in part due to the $80,000 he helped raise for colorectal cancer awareness in the past year. Said Hyde: “He’s extremely generous, very caring. He treats people with the utmost respect. He’s just a great guy.”
Mancini did not address his injury status after the game. But he spoke generally about his health Tuesday afternoon, as the one-year anniversary of his final chemotherapy treatment approaches. Mancini completed chemo on Sept. 21, 2020, embarking on an arduous winter of training shortly thereafter with an eye toward working back into baseball shape. He was one of the first Orioles to report to Spring Training, and as of Tuesday night, he had not spent a single day of '21 on the injured list. All this while making concerted efforts to maintain his health off the field, including periodic checkups with his oncologist to ensure the cancer had not re-emerged.
In short, it’s been a taxing year -- physically, mentally and emotionally -- which Mancini is the first to admit. But it’s also been a successful one, whether it ends in three weeks or earlier.
“A year ago from right now, I was in a pretty tough place physically,” Mancini said prior to Tuesday’s game. “When I finished treatments, I knew I had a lot of work to do. You know, I didn't really want to broadcast that much at the time. But I was sick, and I was a lot weaker than I had been. So I began workouts immediately after my treatments were over. I knew I didn't have much time to spare. … I had to get to work. So it's basically been a year and a half now straight of every day, hard work. I'm really glad physically how I held up this year. With the exception of getting hit by pitches in weird spots a couple times and needing a game off here and there after a tough stretch, I'm really happy with how I felt physically.”