SARASOTA, Fla. -- With Opening Day one week away — the moving trucks parked outside the Ed Smith Stadium complex and Orioles players preparing to flock north for the beginning of the regular season — manager Buck Showalter has watched third baseman Manny Machado closely in recent days.
While it always appeared that Machado might not be recovered from offseason left knee surgery in time for Opening Day, Showalter removed any doubt about the spring’s top storyline on Sunday afternoon, announcing that the Orioles’ 21-year-old All-Star third baseman will start the season on the 15-day disabled list.
Showalter said he talked to Machado in the fifth inning of Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and told him that he was considering making the announcement so that Machado wouldn’t be asked about it anymore and could focus on getting completely healthy.
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“We knew, he knew,” Showalter said. “He knows the level that he has to be at to perform in the big leagues, and we want to get it right the first time. He knows how much all of our guys mean to our club, so when we get him, we want to get him right.”
From the moment that Machado crumbled to the ground last September at Tropicana Field after landing awkwardly on first base, his goal was to return by Opening Day — even though the recovery time from a torn medial patellofemoral ligament is typically four to six months.
Machado said Saturday — two days after he returned from an appointment with performing surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache to receive clearance to continue his rehab — that he didn’t know whether he’d be ready by Opening Day, but he didn’t rule out the chance then. Showalter has now answered the question.
“I think it's almost — I don't want to say a relief — but at least to know this isn't a failure by any stretch,” Showalter said. “I still think you're going to get him sometime in April. For us to get out of here and everything kind of stop a little bit, I think when he gets a couple games under his belt, I think it'll move quickly because he'll quit thinking about all the moving parts.”
Machado ran for the second straight day on Sunday after being unable to run for nearly two weeks with scar-tissue buildup and a left calf strain. The issues prevented him from progressing with the base-running drills to gain the strength in the leg necessary to return to games. But the pain wasn’t completely gone after he ran Sunday.
So once the club heads north, Machado — who won the American League Platinum Glove award, played in his first All-Star Game and led the AL in doubles (51) in his first full major league season — will continue to rehab in extended spring training in Sarasota until he is ready for a minor league rehab assignment, which has a 20-day window.
His DL date is backlisted to Saturday, the first day players can be placed on the disabled list for the upcoming season, but it appears that Machado is still weeks away from returning to the Orioles. Once he starts playing rehab games with nearby minor league affiliates like High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, he will train with the major league team in Baltimore.
“We've got a pretty good idea about how much time it would take,” Showalter said. “From here on out, the next time you'll see him will be in Frederick, Bowie, Norfolk. … I think that's probably where we're headed. But he's made a lot of strides. He's getting close. [The pain was] almost completely gone today. So I think it's good for him to kind of start getting in that frame of mind now.
“I want that doubt completely gone. I wouldn't be surprised to have him come in here tomorrow and maybe have his best day physically. … I like where he is. If you had told me coming into the spring that this is where we'd be with the surgical side and everything, I would have been fine with it.”
Machado was not available to the media after Sunday’s game because he had already left the complex. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said through a team spokesman that he would comment on Machado on Monday.
“It's a long, long season,” Showalter said. “I think he's going to play a lot of games this year for us. … He's miserable in a lot of ways, OK? It's the first time in his life at 21, 22, he's looking out there and watching people play baseball. Quite frankly, he likes our guys, but he's tired of watching.”
The announcement also allowed the major league club to solidify its plans without Machado. Ryan Flaherty, who spent most of the spring competing for the starting second base job, will likely shift to third base in Machado’s absence. And top position player prospect Jonathan Schoop or offseason trade acquisition Jemile Weeks will then likely be the second baseman on Opening Day.
“I know he wants to [be ready], but maybe he can't,” said Schoop, who is a close friend of Machado’s and came up through the Orioles’ minor league system with him. “You've got to get fully healthy, get back at your best because he's missed some time in spring training. Spring training's pretty big. You've got to get your best. He will be ready. I don't know when, maybe April, but I know he'll be ready.”
Showalter said it was difficult to tell Machado that he’d open the season on the disabled list, but he saw over the past two days that it was a good idea so he could focus solely on recovery instead of his hope of getting back in time for the season opener.
“[Now] you can get on with knowing what the end game is and knowing what you’ve got ahead of you,” Showalter said. “He needs to know, too. Think about it, he’s walking in here and trucks are leaving for Baltimore and players are getting ready, and he’s just looking forward to taking infield and [batting practice], and that’s it, just standing around watching the game.
“I saw him out there today at lunch just kind of jogging by himself, wondering what might be going through his head. That kind of put me over the hump on it, too. I haven’t talked to anybody upstairs [in the front office]. I talked to [head trainer] Richie [Bancells] about it. I think it’s the right thing to do, by God.”