FREDERICK — In Manny Machado's long-awaited first minor league rehab game, he looked much like the burgeoning superstar he was before offseason surgery on his left knee.
Playing his first minor league rehab game Friday night for the Orioles’ high Class-A affiliate in Frederick, Machado had to wait through a 62-minute rain delay that prompted the Orioles to move the Gold Glove winner from third base to designated hitter because of the wet field.
But when Machado stepped to the plate in an actual game for the first time since his season ended prematurely last September, the All-Star picked up where he left off, going 3-for-4 with two doubles, a triple and two runs scored.
“It’s huge,” Machado said following the Keys’ 5-3 loss to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. “It’s the first game under the lights, first game in front of a great crowd like this. It’s definitely a big, big obstacle that we’ve crossed and hopped over. Hopefully we can continue it and as soon as possible get back up there.”
In his first at bat, Machado – who led the American League last season with 51 doubles -- lined a 1-2 pitch the other way down the right-field line for a stand-up double. Machado then followed with a triple in his second at bat, speeding around the bases when he hit a 2-0 pitch deep down the right-field line.
Machado said he didn’t think about his injury as he rounded the bases.
“Not at all,” he said. “You play the game. I can’t go out there thinking about my injury or thinking about whether something will happen. Just got to go out there and leg it out. I got a triple and we scored a run.”
He launched the first pitch of his third at-bat off the center field wall for a stand-up double, missing a home run by a few feet.
“Almost, I thought I had that one,” Machado said with a smile.
While the 21-year-old Machado realized his rehab assignment started well – all three of his hits were hit hard and he went with outside pitches on his two-opposite field hits – that doesn’t mean he will return to the Orioles lineup any sooner. Asked before the game how many games Machado will need before he believes he will be ready, he couldn’t pinpoint a number.
“If I would have hit four home runs, I’m not going to go to play in the big leagues tomorrow,” Machado said. “That’s not how it works. I wish it was that easy. But this is just a process and it’s not about how many hits I get or how many big plays I make. It’s more about getting the feel for it, playing nine innings, being on your feet for the whole game. There’s a lot of things that come into play than just having a good game.”
Machado said he expects to play his first game at third base at Frederick on Saturday.
He seemed energized on Friday from playing in front of a large crowd that gave him a rousing ovation when he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat and chanted, "Man-ny, Man-ny" through the raindrops in his final at bat.
“I was pretty calm,” Machado said. “The adrenaline was pumping a little bit, I’m not going to lie, but I felt great. Overall a great feeling to be out there under the lights with the fans cheering me on. It was a good day.
A capacity crowd of 6,403 packed Harry Grove Stadium. Hours before the game, as rain fell, the Keys’ phones were constantly ringing to ask if the game was still on. When gates opened an hour before the scheduled first pitch, fans immediately flocked to the railing next to the home clubhouse to catch a glimpse of Machado.
The fans in Frederick remembered Machado well -- he played here during the second half of his first full professional season in 2011, when he teamed with Jonathan Schoop as the Keys’ middle-infield tandem and Frederick won a Carolina League title. Machado's Keys jersey hangs in the team offices.
After being left behind at the Orioles' spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla., when the season began, Machado was eager to begin his assignment, saying he had waited long enough to get back into a competitive game situation in a stadium, under the lights and in front of fans.
“Oh yeah, I’m glad the rehab [part] is over with,” Machado said before the game. “It’s been long. It’s been too long. But it’s just part of the process. You can’t just walk up the mountain in one day. It takes time and I’m excited to be out here. I’m excited to be up here in Baltimore finally and playing in some games finally. That’s the only thing I can look forward to and the only think I can control.”
On Friday night, Orioles vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson was by Machado’s side in the Keys dugout. Orioles minor league infield coordinator Dave Anderson was also on hand to watch Machado.
Machado’s stay in the minors could still be brief – it will depend on how well he performs and adjusts to game speed – but he had more than 30 at bats through simulated and extended spring games in Sarasota before arriving in Frederick. That, of course, was different.
“You had maybe 10, 15 people out there watching you play and just your teammates,” Machado said before the game. “It’s definitely a little different. … It’s what I need to get to the next level.”
Machado’s night ended following a strikeout in his final at bat in the sixth inning, but on his way to the home clubhouse, he signed autographs for fans and posed for photos in the rain for several minutes.
“They came out here to support me and the least I could do was stay a couple extra minutes and sign for the kids and sign for the fans who come and support me,” Machado said. “They come from Frederick, they drive to Baltimore to come and support us. … You’ve just got to give back to the fans and show them that we care for everything that they do.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun