Manny Machado admits that he feared the worst when he fell to the ground at home plate Monday night, holding his right knee and writhing in pain in the batter’s box.
The moment brought back memories for Machado of last September, when his other knee buckled as he hit first base, ending his year with an injury that required offseason surgery and forced him to miss the first month this season.
And even though the Orioles placed their third baseman on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday, the team’s diagnosis of a knee ligament sprain was met with relief.
“When it happens, things cross your mind, and you think, you assume already the worst,” Machado said, “but you really can’t assume anything until you actually see the results, and it is in front of your face, [and] you have the doctor next to you helping you make those decisions. It was a relief.”
The Orioles are certain that this injury will not end Machado’s season, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter is optimistic that the 2013 American League Platinum Glove winner could be ready to return when he’s eligible to be activated Aug. 27.
But the timeframe for Machado’s return remains murky.
“We’ve got a pretty good feel,” Showalter said. “We’ve got our arms around it. Hopefully, it will manage itself during [the DL] period, and he will be back there or close to it.”
Neither Showalter nor Machado could specify the degree of the sprain or the ligament affected, but when asked whether he believed a return in two weeks was likely, Machado’s eyes opened wide and he appeared shocked.
“Two weeks?” Machado said. “Whenever I feel good. Whenever I feel good. Whenever I’m able to go out there and be Manny Machado. I don’t know when that is going to be. It could be tomorrow, it could be in a month, it could be in three weeks. It’s something that, it’s a feel thing. Docs said [Tuesday] it’s more of how you feel. Once you get out there, once I do what I need to do and then how you feel.”
Showalter said Machado would have to begin baseball activities by around Aug. 24 in order to be ready to return when he is eligible.
“I feel like we have a chance to be pretty fortunate about it by the end of the month,” Showalter said. “… It’s not if, now, it’s when, we think. He’s going to work hard at some other things to strengthen the area, and hopefully he can finish the season when the opposition lets us finish it.”
Machado, 22, has suffered an injury to one of his knees three times in the past four seasons.
In 2011, he injured his left knee while playing for Low-A Delmarva and then suffered the season-ending injury to the same knee last September. This is the first injury to his right knee, but Machado will concentrate on strengthening the knee while resting the joint.
“Got to work harder,” Machado said. “That’s how I see it. Got to work harder to not get back into that situation. Now it’s in my hands. It’s something I’ve got to go and do. I’ve got to work harder than what I did. Guess I didn’t work hard enough, so go out there and work harder and get back out there.
“They’re both freak accidents. I got over it. I got back up and I did what I needed to do and I got back out there. I’ve got faith in what I’ve got here. I’ve got good trainers helping me out to get back out there like they did before. We’re just trying to get it right this time. … Hopefully move this process quicker and just get after it basically. I know what I need to get done. I know I need to get stronger. I know what I need to do. So that’s in my hands,and I’ve just got to go out there and just get it done.”
Showalter said the club will focus on preventing further knee problems during Machado's recovery.
“We have a pretty good idea why, and there's some things you can do to lessen the chances of it happening,” Showalter said. “He's been pretty diligent about it, but I think it's been more toward the one leg than the other one, so now I think we'll use this time to focus on all of it. You've got to understand, Manny's a very flexible guy. That's one of the reasons why he makes the plays that he makes.”
The Orioles have dodged adversity this season, losing starting catcher Matt Wieters to eventual Tommy John elbow ligament reconstruction surgery after just 26 games. Shortstop J.J. Hardy, who missed seven games in the first 3 1/2 weeks with back and hamstring ailments, has missed the last three games with a sprained left thumb.
Machado initially struggled to find his rhythm upon returning from knee surgery, but in his last 34 games, he was hitting .346/.388/.572 with seven doubles, eight homers and 20 RBIs.
With the Orioles holding a 6 1/2-game lead in the American League East heading into Wednesday, Machado is looking forward to being back on the field next month and during a possible postseason run.
“We’re in a good situation here, and I definitely want to be a part of it,” Machado said. “I’m going to be a part of it no matter what. The best nine players got to be out there to play. Right now, I’m not one of them. I just got to get to that point where I can be back out there and help the team in whatever way I can.”