Mancini's 1st spring HR: 'I feel ready to play'

March 20th, 2021

continues to check off milestones this spring as he works his way back from Stage 3 colon cancer, returning to the field after a year away. The latest came Friday, when Mancini hit his first home run of Grapefruit League play in the Orioles' 11-9 win over the Pirates at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.

Batting against Edgar Santana in the fourth, Mancini hammered a 2-2 breaking ball halfway up into the left-field grandstand to stretch Baltimore’s lead to 6-4. The solo shot was also the first extra base hit of Grapefruit League play for Mancini, who is hitting .321 (9-for-28) in 10 games this spring.

“It did feel really good to connect with one there,” Mancini said. "It had been a long time since I had that feeling.”

Cancer-free since mid-September, Mancini arrived at Orioles camp this spring early and without restriction, eyeing an official return to the field on Opening Day. Nothing has happened to alter those plans. He enjoyed an emotional return to game action in his spring debut, then played roughly every other day for the next two-plus weeks, alternating between first base and designated hitter. The plan is to ramp Mancini up to everyday action over Spring Training’s final week-plus.

His last regular season game came in 2019, when Mancini hit .291 with 35 homers and .899 OPS. He was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer the following March, just shy of his 28th birthday, and missed the '20 season beating the disease amidst a global pandemic.

“Trey is definitely meeting my expectations,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said this week. “My expectations are I hope he feels good everyday, and right now he does. He’s in a great place physically and mentally. It’s a daily conversation between me and him about whether he’s ready to go the next day. Every day I’ve asked him, he is. That’s going to continue for the rest of the season.”

Barring any unforeseen setback, that’s great news for a rebuilding Orioles team looking to build on the strides it took in '20 without its most productive and popular player. Should Mancini reclaim even a fraction of his old form, it will re-insert another impact bat back into the heart of the lineup amid slugging right fielder Anthony Santander, exciting rookie Ryan Mountcastle and others, with Mancini’s permanent move to first base also sliding Chris Davis (when healthy) into a reserve role. That this spring has gone so smoothly bodes well for Mancini and the Orioles both.

“It's been 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 where I just felt overmatched for whatever reason. It's been like that pretty consistently, for the most part. Even within the same game: one at-bat I’ll feel great, then I'll strike out the next two, and be like, ‘What is going on?’ But that's how I am every spring. It’s no different than how I've been my entire life, gearing up for a season. I feel pretty good up there at the plate.”

Asked if he had any lingering doubts he is ready to play everyday again, Mancini did not hesitate.

“I have no doubt at all,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if I did. I feel ready to play.”