Long on Núñez: “I see a lot of room for growth”

If the Orioles are able to play baseball in 2020, no one else on the active roster is going to have more home runs or RBIs from the previous season than designated hitter Renato Núñez.

Trey Mancini ranked first in both categories, but is unable to play this year while recovering from colon cancer surgery. His goal is 2021.

It was a breakout season for Núñez, who earned the opportunity to appear in 151 games and accumulated 599 plate appearances. His 132 hits, 24 doubles, 31 home runs, 90 RBIs and 72 runs scored crushed his previous highs.

What can he do for an encore?

Hitting coach Don Long is convinced that Núñez has more left in the tank.

“Oh, for sure,” Long said in a recent phone interview. “He consistently hits the ball hard and a big determining factor of a guy’s success at any level, but (especially) at the major league level, is your ability to consistently hit the ball hard. You’re going to get better results in the long run. And he doesn’t hit a lot of balls on the ground, which is good because obviously he doesn’t run very well. But I see a lot of room for growth and a lot of room for improvement.”

Check the slash line. That’s a good place to start.

Núñez batted .244/.311/.460 for the season, .229/.302/.431 against right-handers and .226/.280/.423 on the road, compared to .263/.342/.500 at Camden Yards.

The Orioles are seeking more consistency from Núñez. He slashed .304/.379/.576 in July and didn’t come close to that production in any other month. The seven home runs in July were one more than he totaled in August and September.

His last two home runs were hit in a three-game series in Boston to close out the season. There were prolonged power outages and sudden bursts.

Nunez-Swing-Gray-sidebar.jpg“He was doing some things last year, kind of throughout the season, that would come and go, and it was a positional thing where he was really opening up to his pull side a lot and it caused him some problems,” Long said.

“In September, I think the light kind of went on for him and he started to stay in a better position. And what it does is give him the ability to manage more of the strike zone and chase less and really use his strength, which is to hit the ball all over the field.

“To me he’s the kind of guy that’s just scratching the surface of what he could be capable of doing, for sure.”

Núñez won’t have to worry about losing momentum built in spring training. He went 5-for-31 (.161) with one home run and 10 strikeouts.

Long is keeping tabs on his hitters via phone calls, texts and Zoom interactions. He’s been checking on Mancini, who’s undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

“I talked to him probably a week or so ago and we exchange texts,” Long said. “He’s just got a really great outlook and very upbeat. Just kind of taking it on and doing what he needs to do. And he sounds good and he sounds very hopeful. So it’s uplifting to speak with him, you know?”

The Orioles remain thankful, and none more than Mancini, that he had access to the physical examinations and testing that might not have been readily available outside of baseball. The warning signs could have been ignored if they hadn’t impacted his workouts.

His presence in camp might have saved his life.

“That was a blessing for sure,” Long said, “because at his age, that’s just not something many people have to encounter.”

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