Mancini: 'Definitely trying to finish strong'

September 4th, 2021

NEW YORK -- Whatever else does this season, manager Brandon Hyde says, is gravy. It’s a sentiment shared by many in baseball after Mancini’s triumphant return from colon cancer, his productive first half and his inspiring Home Run Derby appearance. So no, the Orioles aren’t concerned about Mancini’s difficult August, which may have been related to fatigue given the physical and mental demands of the past few years.

That doesn’t mean, however, they are against the idea of Mancini finishing 2021 strong. If that happens, they may well point to Friday as a turning point, when Mancini put as big a jolt into a baseball as he has in weeks. Homering in the Orioles’ 4-3 extra-innings defeat to the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Mancini went deep for the first time since Aug. 14. It served as a bright spot on a night Baltimore watched a one-run lead evaporate in the 10th and lost on Giancarlo Stanton’s walk-off single in the 11th.

“I feel like in the last week or so, I’ve had certain nights where I’ve felt better,” Mancini said. “Especially tonight. You look for things to feel good about, especially when you haven’t felt your best, by and large, for most of the year.”

With 110.6 mph exit velocity and traveling 416 feet, Mancini’s homer off Néstor Cortes Jr. in the sixth inning registered as both his farthest (since July 25) and most well-struck ball (since Aug. 7) in weeks. The Orioles tied the score on ’s homer an inning later, then watched their bullpen log four scoreless innings behind before cracking in the 10th on DJ LeMahieu’s game-tying single off .

Means and the former Oriole Cortes spent the first five-plus innings dueling, with Means not allowing a hit until the fourth but needing 92 pitches to complete five frames of two-run ball. With the no-decision, Means now hasn’t won since July 31, a six-start span. Like Mancini, he is looking to put a tough August behind him after the Orioles went 4-24 in the month. They are 3-25 since Aug. 2.

“It’s no secret this year has been ... I hate to use the word grind, but it has, every single day, from a mental standpoint,” Mancini said. “Just living with what I have to live with, it’s the reality. … It’s tough. Whenever the game starts, you need to get all that out of your mind, play your best and clear your mind. It’s been a challenge, but I am definitely trying to finish strong.”

To do so, Mancini employs a regimen of breathing exercises he’s developed over the past few years to cope with difficult circumstances. He’s also spent stretches this season reading sports psychology books with an eye toward alleviating self-imposed pressure. Those tools helped him break out of an early-season funk and catch fire in May; now he’s working to move on from an anguishing August.

Mancini hit .256/.331/.460 with 16 homers in 86 first-half games, then slumped to .224/.248/.306 with one homer in 22 games in August. Baltimore’s 19-game losing streak was especially rough; Mancini hit .238 with one homer, two RBIs and 16 strikeouts in 16 games during the skid. All told, his second-half OPS is nearly 100 points lower than his first-half mark. But he’s now recorded multihit games in two of the past four contests after doing so thrice in his previous 18.

“It starts as a mental thing, but there are physical things that show up,” he said. “I try not to think about the physical things too much, but I have noticed a lot of things going on in my swing that I haven’t particularly liked [recently]. But you can’t go out there and try to fix it against who we face on a nightly basis.”

Said Hyde: “I’m not putting any stock in whether he finishes strong or not. He’s been hard on himself lately and scuffled a bit as of late. It’s nice to see him stay behind one and drive one like he did. Hopefully that makes him feel good and he continues to swing the bat like that. Listen, he’s going to have ups and downs. He’s just extremely tough on himself. It was a really good swing, and hope it continues."