If the weather allows Orioles third baseman Manny Machado to make his season debut Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Camden Yards, there's no doubt that the 21-year-old All-Star will be under the spotlight.
For his first few games, every move Machado makes will be put under a microscope -- the first time he dives for a ball at third base, the first time his cuts around first base, the first time he slides.
Even though he was at High-A Frederick for just three games, he has done all those things already to test his surgically repaired left knee, but that won’t stop everyone from looking closely.
Machado even admits that it might take some time to trust his body at the major league level.
"That's the tough part, you want to try to block that out,” Machado said. “I did everything possible I could ever do in the rehab to get my strength back, get my flexibility back, get right, basically. I did everything, so now it's just go out there and trust yourself, that you put all that hard work into it, and go out there and not think about it, and go out there and play the game at 110 percent.”
When Machado began his rehab assignment Friday, he said he didn’t want to predict how many games he might need to play before returning to the major leagues.
"I told myself, whenever that day is, whenever I feel that I'm 100 percent, and I'm running down the bases, and I feel good on the field, that was going to be the day, whether it was today or next week or two weeks from now,” he said. “I really never had a date in the back of my mind, it was just a matter of how I felt."
He has slightly adjusted the way he runs the bases, something he concentrated on during spring training. At that time, Machado said he was working to get more strength in his legs.
"It wasn't a new way of running,” Machado said. “It was just kind of perfecting the way I ran, those are [the] things that come into play in the strength of my legs, the strength of my glutes. It was just a matter of getting it all together, getting it all to work the same way and just fixing the way I ran a little bit."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter cautioned against any overreaction if Machado starts slowly.
“Some of the pitchers that we have to face at this level, that can happen whether you're on top of your game or not,” Showalter said.
Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is ready for Machado's return.
"I don't know why we would want to put that much pressure on him, and expect him to come back and make an immediate impact,” Hardy said. “But he's a great player, and he's going to make our team better. So, if it's not an impact in the first week, then it will be for the long haul."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun