Orioles third baseman Manny Machado has a "big day" scheduled today, according to manager Buck Showalter.

He'll run sprints for the first time in Sarasota, Fla., as part of his rehabilitation from left knee surgery in October.

The sense is that, if he rebounds from those sprints without any problems, the next step for Machado will be playing in games at extended spring training before an eventual minor league rehab assignment.

There is no timetable for Machado's return, but I’d say we’re looking at early- to mid-May before he is playing for the Orioles.

The sense is also that his return can’t come soon enough. Several people have asked me about how much I think the Orioles miss Machado.

After Sunday’s loss, the question was posed to Orioles first baseman Chris Davis.

“You can’t sit here and worry about when he is going to come back. We trust Manny’s doing everything he can to get back, but we’ve got guys in here that can pick him up,” Davis said. “And that’s part of a season. That’s part of the game. Injuries are part of the game, and you’ve got to use what you’ve got to go out there and try to hand it to [the opposition].”

Bottom line: Blaming the Orioles’ 5-7 start on not having Machado is nothing more than an excuse. And a poor excuse, really.

Machado is a tremendous defender. And he provides another quality hitter that other teams have to face.

But Delmon Young has been more than fine batting in the No. 2 spot, Steve Lombardozzi has hit well and Jonathan Schoop has handled himself (.244 average) solidly enough for a rookie.

Ryan Flaherty is hitting .152, but he’s in there for his defense, and he probably would have made the majority of starts at second base early in the season (or at shortstop when J.J. Hardy was out) anyway.

Sure, Machado’s glove would have saved some runs in the past two weeks; he obviously could have made a difference Friday when the Orioles’ infield defense fell apart in one key inning.
But this team isn’t 5-7 because Machado is in Sarasota. It’s 5-7 because the rotation has had trouble going consistently deep into games, and the vaunted offense -- as a whole -- isn’t scoring enough. Manny Machado isn’t a satchel of magic beans.

When he returns, it’ll help some. He has a career .337 average with runners in scoring position, but he also hit .240 overall in the second half of last year.

This is a team that is made up of established offensive starters who can play defense. There shouldn’t be a wailing lament that because their 21-year-old budding superstar is out, they have a reason to be struggling.

No one in the clubhouse is selling that. And the fans shouldn’t be either.