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This is how Mancini has become so dangerous

@JoeTrezz
August 13, 2019

NEW YORK -- Not long after suffering one of the more lopsided losses in franchise history last weekend, Trey Mancini stood at his locker and, through gritted teeth, spoke of turning the page. Resilience is a theme for these Orioles, with ample opportunity throughout this oft-trying season. With records piling

NEW YORK -- Not long after suffering one of the more lopsided losses in franchise history last weekend, Trey Mancini stood at his locker and, through gritted teeth, spoke of turning the page. Resilience is a theme for these Orioles, with ample opportunity throughout this oft-trying season. With records piling up, Mancini spoke about the challenge of avoiding “a loser’s mentality,” despite the dog days of August still very much ahead.

It was a short interview, but it served as a snapshot of the outsized off-the-field role Mancini has assumed while continuing to pile up numbers on it.

“Even though this is his third year in the big leagues, he recognizes that we don’t have a whole lot of experience here, and I think guys really look up to him and how hard he plays and how he prepares,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I think it’s natural that he’s becoming a voice in our clubhouse and somebody that all our guys look up to.”

Hitting helps too, of course, and Mancini has hardly slowed down in that sphere. He’s spent a month’s worth of second-half games quelling any worry that his breakout first half was a mirage, hitting for more power than at any point in his career since the All-Star break.

Now at .279 with an .884 OPS and 29 homers through 113 games entering Tuesday, Mancini continues to be a ray of light on the darker days of this rebuilding season, like when he homered in each game of Monday’s pair of losses to the Yankees.

The peaks and valleys that defined Mancini’s first two seasons in the Majors are gone. Four-and-a-half months into Year 3, he’s emerged as a consistent threat and one of the most productive hitters in the American League.

Let’s dig into the numbers to take a look at two main reasons why:

He is crushing fastballs

We don’t have to look any further than Monday for proof of one of Mancini’s main skills in the box -- combining his strength with a near-elite ability to mash velocity.

There is little other way to explain how Mancini somehow connected with a 96.6 mph fastball from James Paxton that sizzled in 4.17 feet above home plate, well above the top of the strike zone. Mancini called it “definitely the highest pitch I’ve ever hit out before, probably in my life.”

Not just that, but it was the highest pitch hit for a home run in the Majors this season, per Statcast. It surpassed the previous high-water mark for 2019, set by Didi Gregorius with a grand slam against the Rays on July 16. The pitch hit by Gregorius was 4.02 feet high.

“I just reacted to it,” Mancini said. “I tried to tomahawk it out and I got it definitely as well as I could for it being in that spot. But looking back on it, I’m more of a low-ball hitter than high ball I’d say, so I was pretty surprised after the fact. Normally I foul that pitch straight back.”

Toss in the more pedestrian 89.6 mph sinker from Joe Mantiply that Mancini sent into the seats in Game 2, and a long-emerging trend continues: as far as pitches go, both came in relatively straight. And Mancini mashes those.

Mancini has also improved against breaking balls and offspeed pitches this season -- his numbers are up across the board -- but it’s against heaters where you see the biggest change. Mancini’s .306 average against fastballs of 95 mph or harder puts him on par with superstars like Kris Bryant, Manny Machado and Francisco Lindor; he’s boosted his slugging .170 points (.498 to .668) against fastballs of any kind.

Mancini's past nine homers have all come on fastballs, and his total of 23 dingers off heaters are tied with Mike Trout for the most in the Majors this season.

His power plays to all fields

Now let’s talk direction. Not only did both of Mancini’s homers on Monday come on fastballs, both went to the opposite field. This is another theme for Mancini, who says he’s “always been fully committed to hitting the ball to right-center, and that’s how I grew up learning how to hit.”

“I’ve really, really tried to commit to keeping my approach on that side,” Mancini said. “There was a time when I was struggling, and I was really chasing that inside pitch a lot. Pitches in off the plate, with the velocity guys have nowadays, you just can’t hit it. … . It’s not really a secret -- I look for pitches out over [the plate].”

For a player who swung at a pitch that hit his finger earlier this year, it’s an approach that requires constant behind-the-scenes work with hitting coaches Don Long and Howie Clark, who counsel Mancini through short-bat and ultra-close overhand drills meant to simulate high-velocity pitches.

“Everything inside, we try to lay off that,” Mancini said.

It’s essentially a small sacrifice that has opened up the rest of the plate and the entire field, and it allows Mancini’s power to play. He’s sliced his ground-ball rate from 55.5 to 45.2 this year and as a result, he is yet to yank an extra-base hit to left all year, and he has hit 22 homers either to straightaway center or the other way. That’s more than any hitter in the Majors.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.