CHICAGO — Once an MRI revealed a partially torn ligament in his right knee, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado knew it was possible that his season was over. But with the Orioles on the verge of their first American League East title in 17 years, Machado hoped rest and treatment would resolve the injury quickly enough to allow him to be a part of a possible postseason run.
Nearly two weeks after his right knee buckled after following through on a swing, however, Machado has decided to have season-ending surgery for the second straight season.
Machado suffered a partial tear of his medial patellofemoral ligament, the same ligament that required season-ending surgery last year in his left knee.
“Obviously, with the position we’re in now, you don’t want to hear about surgery,” Machado said. “You want to try to get back out there on the field and be back with the team and help the team get to the playoffs and continue with my season, but it’s been a couple weeks now, and the pain hasn’t gotten any better. So I think it was just the best decision to get it done now rather than later and wait like we did last year. I think it got to the point where I just had to make a decision.”
Machado, 22, said he hopes to have the surgery next week in Los Angeles. It will be performed by Dodgers team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who also performed last year’s procedure on Machado’s left knee. Orioles head athletic trainer Richie Bancells said that while this injury was just a partial tear — he suffered a full tear last season — the procedure will be similar, with a tendon being harvested from his hamstring to reconstruct the ligament. The estimated recovery time is six months, about what it was after last season.
"Our original approach was to have him rest and then to try to play and then see if he could play ball,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said. “We also knew there was a chance of a recurrence. Given this injury and the time of the season, we thought that we would rest it and try to recover and come back and play for the rest of the year. But Manny didn't feel that was the best option."
Machado said part of the timing of his decision was to ensure that he would be back in time for spring training in 2015 and to correct an abnormal condition in his knees that has caused his injury problems. Machado injured his left knee in September as he ran through first base on a routine play. He also had a similar injury with his left knee in the minor leagues in 2011.
“I have abnormal knees,” Machado said. “That was one of the reasons this keeps happening. That was one of the reasons. We want to get it fixed now so that it won’t bother me for the rest of my career. Obviously, it’s August already, and if we keep waiting, it’s just going to make it worse, and we’re not going to be ready for spring training next year. I think that’s a big part. I think we don’t realize how big spring training is. This year, not having spring training kind of pushed me back a little bit, and, baseball-wise, you need those reps. Spring training is huge. I think with getting it fixed now, it’s going to help me, and hopefully I’ll be ready for spring training [and be] a full-go and be back out there.”
Now the Orioles must plan for life without Machado. They’ve been resilient. The Orioles are 26-18 without Machado and earlier lost catcher Matt Wieters after just 26 games to season-ending Tommy John elbow ligament reconstruction surgery.
“There’s going to be times that we are going to have some things happen at third or first that may not be [ideal]. Everybody has got strengths and weaknesses,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “If I know this club, we will pick up slack, just like we did when he wasn’t here.
“[We] probably felt like there was potential for that happening at some point in his career,” Showalter added. “So it doesn't surprise you. It’s one of those things — I don't get into that ‘Woe is me’ [menality]. You can’t get into that mentality when we’ve played 40, 50 games without him. … We’d like to have him, but life goes on. Baseball goes on. it’s not uncharted territory for this team that’s been playing without people that on paper were going to be with us.”
Duquette said he likes the Orioles’ available replacements at third base. Starting third baseman Chris Davis and utility player Ryan Flaherty patrolled the position since Machado went on the disabled list. The emergence of Steve Pearce has allowed the club to play him at first and shift Davis to third.
"There's a very limited pool of players that are available this time of the year because a lot of players' contracts don't get through the trade waiver process, so it's a very limited pool, but I think we have some pretty good depth in-house, and we've had some players step up, like Steve Pearce, and do a good job," Duquette said. "And we're going to continue to need players to step up in this situation."
Davis made his 11th start of the season at third on Saturday, the most he has made at the position since starting 17 games there in 2011. He has 75 big league starts at third base.
“I’ve played there quite a bit in the past,” Davis said. “It’s helped to have a few games to go over there and get some work in, have rockets hit over there right off the bat. Like I said before, I’m not going to try and replace him. Just try to pick up the slack when he’s gone, make the routine plays. Any championship team, any championship-caliber team, I think their roster has changed during the course of the season. It’s a thing you have to deal with. You have injuries, you have guys beat up. That’s just part of it.”
Machado said it will be difficult being out as the Orioles close in on the playoffs, especially since he felt the thrill of the postseason just two months into his big league career, in 2012.
“It [stinks]. It really, really does,” Machado said. “I was in the same situation in 2012, when the team made the playoffs. It was one of the best parts of my career, best parts of my entire life, being in the postseason. Being so close this year with it and going down with this injury, it’s really hard.
“This wasn’t a very easy decision for me. We knew the situation we were in with my knee from the get-go with the MRI. And it was my decision to try to go out there and try to make the best of it and try to get back on the field, because this is special. We have something special here, and it’s something you want to be a part of. … It’s something you have to deal with. It [stinks]. It’s really hard. It’s just something that’s going to make me stronger.”