BALTIMORE—In his first week of regular-season games since returning from colon cancer surgery and months of chemotherapy, Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini has received warm welcomes from fans, opposing players and even umpires.
Now, he just wants to play baseball.
After seven games, Mancini is batting .179 (5-for-28) with 3 RBIs and 11 strikeouts. The 2019 Most Valuable Oriole knows he can do better.
“From the Yankees series through today, it’s actually probably been four of the most challenging games I’ve ever gone through in my career,” Mancini said.
In those four games, Mancini is 2-for-16. He did single in his final at-bat in the eighth inning of Thursday’s 7-3 loss to the Red Sox in the Orioles home opener.
“I expect a lot out of myself,” Mancini said. “There was a lot of pressure on my shoulders in trying to perform too much and prove that I’m the same guy, and I know I am. I don’t think I’ve gone about these four games the right way.”
Half of the 16 at-bats have been strikeouts. Mancini has always struck out often. From 2017-2019, Mancini averaged 145 strikeouts, but he’s also driven the ball.
“From pitch selection to everything, I took a little step back, especially before my last at-bat today and settled myself down. In that regard, I’m not pleased. But as far as we go, I’m off to a 4-3 start. I know today didn’t end up ideal, but I thought we played well on the road, and hope we can bounce back on Saturday.”
Mancini is hoping that he’ll be able to settle down in the way he did in his final at-bat on Thursday.
“No matter how long a slump, and I don’t know if I would call this a slump, it’s been, I don’t know how many at-bats, 28 or something, but it feels like a lot more,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve played in a month’s worth of games, and it’s been one week. At that same time, we have  games left. I need to realize that. Take what I did that last at-bat and learn from it. I just need to stick to an approach up there, and I have not been doing that well at all.”
Mancini was asked if he’d taken any keepsakes from his comeback games.
“No, I haven’t. Now that you say that, I kind of wish I did,” Mancini said, laughing. “Keep a ball from the first Boston game. Maybe I’ll go grab one from the bucket from today. It’s a good idea. I should have done that.”
Mancini on Mountcastle: Mancini was a first baseman who moved to the outfield to gain playing time when he became a full-time major league player in 2017. Rookie Ryan Mountcastle was moved to left field to try to find a position for him in the majors. Mountcastle has struggled in left, particularly in the past two games, and Mancini has provided encouragement.
“We have talked about it some,” Mancini said. “It’s a really hard transition. I think between last year and this year, I think Ryan’s done such a good job. He’s like me. We never really played outfield until we had to out there, so it’s a learning curve.
“You’ve got to have certain balls hit to you. The one that Gary Sánchez hit to him [Wednesday], I had that same ball hit to me, I think from him, and I did the same thing [Mountcastle missed the ball]. It’s really hard. You get to know guys the more you play them, sometimes how the ball comes off your bat. So, everything’s a learning experience.
“I’ve seen him play out there a lot. In spring training, I was so impressed with how he played out there. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be great out there.”
Fans in the ballpark: Fans have brought back atmosphere to the ballpark, getting rid of piped-in crowd noise and cardboard cutouts.
Even at reduced capacities at Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and Oriole Park, the enthusiasm that fans bring is irreplaceable.
What I’ve noticed this past week is that most of the fans seem to be the hardcore and not casual fans. They’re the ones who missed going to the ballpark the most, and the buzz of a crowd of 4,500 at Fenway is noticed and appreciated.
The Orioles drew 10,150 on Thursday, and it was interesting seeing fans sprinkled in all sections of the park, Unlike many Red Sox games in the past, it was an Orioles crowd.
Seats were reserved for season ticket holders, but few Boston fans were around. When the Yankees come later this month, it will be interesting to see how many of the 10,000 or so are wearing pinstripes.