HOUSTON — Coming off offseason left knee surgery that cost him spring training and the first month of the season, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado knew it would take him some time to feel like he was back to normal.
But one month and more than 100 plate appearances later, Machado is still searching the form that made him one of the game’s top young stars.
He entered Saturday’s 4-1 win over Houston with just one hit in his previous 18 at bats before recording two infield singles in the victory. He is hitting .220/.271/.284 with two homers and five RBIs in 109 at bats. He also has made six errors in 25 games at third after making just 13 last season in 156 games.
“It should be" time, Machado said of getting his rhythm back. “It’s definitely a work in progress. Something like that doesn’t come overnight, but you’ve got to keep grinding, keep fighting every day and try to get better every day. Eventually, it’s going to come back to me and just keep grinding. That’s the only thing you can control. You can’t control how many hits you have, how many errors. You’ve got to keep grinding, keep fighting, try to get better every day.”
On Thursday, Orioles manager Buck Showalter moved Machado down to the seventh spot in the order. He had hit in the No. 2 hole since the beginning of the 2013 season, when Machado was an All-Star in his first full major league season, led the AL with 51 doubles and won the AL Platinum Glove award for the league’s top overall defender.
"We're just trying to be patient for him to work his way back into it, but that's a challenge,” Showalter said. “He gets frustrated. He hides it pretty well. He [has] the same body language, the same everything that he was last year, just not getting the return. And it's frustrating for him.”
Machado, who entered Saturday afternoon’s game 0-for-7 in his first two games in his new spot in the order, said it was a good idea to move down from No. 2.
“I’m not producing up there in the lineup. Might as well put me lower in the lineup, let me catch my breath and get it going again,” Machado said. “It’s just a matter of, 'Keep fighting.' We’re about to get hot. We’re struggling as a team right now. It’s obvious. We’ve just got to keep grinding. The pitching staff is doing well. We’ve just got to put one and one together and get some wins.
“It’s not mental,” Machado added. “I’ve got to keep looking for pitches I need to drive pitches I can hit. Don’t chase pitchers' pitches. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m going out and there and chasing pitches instead of going back to my same approach and getting my base hits.”
Machado had left knee surgery in October and focused his entire spring training on rehabilitating the injury. He was unable to play in Grapefruit League games and instead readied himself in April with simulated games, extended spring training games and a brief minor league assignment in Frederick before playing his first game of the season May 1.
But Machado said he wouldn’t blame that on his slow start.
“I’m not going to blame it on not having a spring training,” Machado said. “I’m not going to blame it on not having anything. It’s all up to me. It’s go up there, take your at-bats. Doesn’t matter if I had spring training or not. I had the at-bats. I had everything I needed down in Sarasota and my rehab assignment to get it done. It’s just something that I’ve got to clean myself up and take it day by day.”
Showalter said it is sometimes hard to keep in mind that Machado is only 21 years old and that you have to handle young players such as him and 22-year-old Jonathan Schoop with care.
“They're basically college seniors,” Showalter said. “Every time somebody wants that train to leave ... I try to slow it down a little bit. But he realizes this is an accountable place, and he wants to do better for the right reasons, because he wants to help the team."
Showalter said Machado should be at the point where he is considered in in-season form, but he has also tried to keep it light. After Machado beat out an infield single on Saturday, he joked with him about his speed down the line.
“I was kidding him on the mound, I said ‘[catcher Matt] Wieters got you at 4.13 [seconds] down the line.’ I said, ‘So I don't want to hear anything about your knee. You’re running good.’ He was laughing.," Showalter said. “He’s got a real good peer group around him -- he and Jonathan.”