Finding the good during another down period

The Orioles tend to create a reflex action of eyes darting to the farm system in search of anything positive. A No. 5 ranking is a vision of loveliness during an unsightly rebuild.

However, there are individual stories on the major league club that shouldn’t be treated as if invisible. And it’s good for the soul to embrace them.

Three examples immediately came to mind yesterday. With arms wide open.

Of course, the first baseman getting drilled on the right elbow last night by a 95 mph fastball in the first inning brought us back to how “this is why we can’t have nice things,” but before that ...

* The Orioles played their 50th game last night. Trey Mancini appeared in his 50th game.

I could stop there, but I won’t.

Can we step back and really appreciate what Mancini is doing?

Don’t become desensitized to it. There’s no way that his story fades into the background. Every single day is astonishing.

We wondered if he’d survive a Stage 3 cancer diagnosis. If he’d play baseball again, which was such a minimal concern compared to living through the ordeal. If he’d be full-go in spring training, if his body would hold up through the daily workouts.

“We have no idea how much a summer’s worth of chemotherapy treatments is going to affect his body,” I’d say in every radio interview.

Could he be in the lineup on opening day and how long would he stay there before needing to rest? Would he ever come close to his 2019 Most Valuable Oriole form?

Trey Mancini isn’t just the Comeback Player of the Year as we move toward June. Right now he’s an All-Star and sentimentality has nothing to do with it.

Mancini began last night ranked second in the majors in RBIs with 42, one behind the Red Sox’s Rafael Devers, and is batting .278 with 11 home runs and an .876 OPS. He’s driven in 22.6 percent of the Orioles’ runs this season, highest in the majors. He hit two balls hard up the middle in the Twins series that would have been hits except for the infielder shifted behind second base, and settled for a home run and double in Wednesday’s finale.

The Orioles haven’t done much in the clutch, but Mancini is batting a team-best .361 (22-for-61) with runners in scoring position and .421 (8-for-19) with RISP and two outs. His 22 hits with RISP were tied with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for most in the majors.

It’s a remarkable achievement that speaks to so many of his qualities, both on and off the field.

Mancini is making $4.75 million this season and due a raise in arbitration after coming back on the same salary in 2021. He’s approaching free agency. The timing of a trade makes total sense given the salary, the distance to contention and his increased value.

It also couldn’t be worse after what he’s overcome and what he means to the franchise. And how, as one former co-worker phrased it this week, trading a hitter of his caliber perhaps in return for a minor leaguer or two that you hope develops into a hitter of his caliber is questionable logic.

You strike while the first baseman is hot and take the best offer or commit the bulk of your payroll to your leader and fan favorite, maybe justifying the cost with Chris Davis down to the final year of his contract, though there’s deferred money. Build the offense around him by offering an extension.

For now, you just keep marveling at what he’s done and wait for the All-Star announcement. Because this isn’t business as usual in baseball.

Thumbnail image for Means-Pitching-Back-at-TB-Gray-Sidebar.jpg* John Means is a No. 1 starter and it has nothing to do with a shallow starters pool or a rebuild. The Orioles were counting on Means to build off those last four starts in 2020 and he’s constructing another All-Star season and early Cy Young chatter.

The Orioles aren’t tossing every rookie prospect from the upper levels of the farm system into their rotation and watching for them to sink or swim. They need an anchor at the top - but one who doesn’t drag down the entire staff. They’ve already gone that route.

Means is giving them length, a precious commodity, but also quality. He’s drafted, developed and positioned just right, with the Orioles able to slot a few of those prospects behind him rather than force a kid into the role or go out shopping for an affordable free agent unworthy of it.

How many times did we hear, “He’d be a middle or back end starter on another team?”

That might be true with Means depending on the team, but the percentage is much lower than with the other arms.

The pitching fantasy puts Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall behind Means in whatever order, with one of the former first-round picks eventually becoming the No. 1. There’s no rush. And there can be a free-for-all to occupy the last two spots - Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, Bruce Zimmermann, Zac Lowther, Mike Baumann, Alexander Wells, Kyle Bradish, Kevin Smith, Drew Rom, Garrett Stallings, Gray Fenter, whomever.

Means’ no-hitter was fun. What he’s becoming is much more important in the big picture.

* The bullpen isn’t exactly brimming with trade chips, given the collective struggles. Values are down. But Paul Fry is an exception.

He’s been really good and can benefit the Orioles on the field or the market.

The spring training misery is a distant memory. Fry entered last night’s game with five runs and 11 hits allowed in 18 innings. He was averaging a career-high 13 strikeouts per nine innings.

Right-handers were slashing .211/.302/.237 and left-handers .125/.222/.125. Neither side had a home run against him, and he averaged 0.7 per nine innings in four major league seasons.

Of course, there’s going to be outside interest, just as the Orioles found last summer with Richard Bleier, Miguel Castro and Mychal Givens.

“I’m not trying to focus too much on that,” Fry said yesterday in a Zoom call. “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. I’m just trying to do my job every day for the team, for the Orioles.”

Fry has positioned himself into closer consideration. No one else has a hammerlock on it.

“Paul’s done a really nice job, there’s no doubt,” manager Brandon Hyde said yesterday in his Zoom call. “He’s had a solid year up to this point. A good year last year also. I feel like it’s a guy who’s really improved. This is our third year together and the three years, command has improved, stuff has ticked up, like the confidence in Paul.

“I had him up for the ninth inning (Wednesday) if we tied it or took the lead, same with the day before. I’m going to try to match up the best I can, but Paul has definitely worked his way into somebody who could pitch the ninth inning for us.”

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