Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth entered Thursday's game with 11 stolen bases, second most in the American League. McLouth credits Manny Machado's patience at the plate hitting behind him with allowing him to be aggressive on the basepaths.
"Eventually, he'll probably hit farther down the lineup, but he's a really good two-hole hitter for that reason," McLouth said. "He's willing to take pitches if he sees me go. If it happens to be early in the count, he's not afraid to get behind in the count and that's definitely important. We talk about it too, and I've told him, 'Man, don't feel like you have to take. If you get a good pitch, I'd rather have you swing."
Nine of McLouth's stolen bases have come with Machado at the plate taking a pitch. And in six of those at-bats, Machado has driven home McLouth from second base.
"If I can take a couple of pitches for him to get in that position and then have the opportunity to drive him in no matter what count it is, that's definitely not just going to help me out, but it's going to help the team," Machado said. "I do feel comfortable taking pitches for him and whatever he needs. We talk and we communicate on where he likes to go and how he likes to steal and on what pitches. I think it's been working for us so far. It definitely helps out."
The dynamic between McLouth and Machado atop the batting order is an interesting one. Orioles manager Buck Showalter trusted the 20-year-old Machado with the No. 2 role this season after he hit in the bottom third of the order during his rookie season last year.
Machado not only has the ability to do the little things to be effective in the in No. 2 spot — namely getting on base and moving runners over — but he's become a run producer. He's third on the team with 22 RBIs and is among the league leaders in doubles (third, with 12), extra-base hits (third, 18), hits (fourth, 45) and runs (sixth, 25).
McLouth says he's been the beneficiary.
"The way he's swinging, maybe we're both trotting around the bases,'" McLouth said. "He's really good at that. It's just him not having the fear of hitting behind in the count. He's been so good once I get there of getting me in. It benefits him too to have a runner in scoring position."
Said Machado: "[McLouth] tells me, 'Hey don't take pitches for me just because I want to steal,' but I just do it because I feel comfortable in whatever count I'll be in. On the other hand, it helps him get stolen bases, helps me get RBIs and it helps us get runs. It's a win-win situation."
Machado said hitting second also helps him learn, because he's right in the middle of many situational parts of the game.
"I think it's good for him to be exposed to it, but it helps Nate also," Showalter said. "When [Machado] is swinging the bat well, they're more apt to throw him an off-speed pitch, which makes the pitcher slower to the plate and the ball is slower to the play and often finishes up in a place where the catcher can't throw as well."
Gonzalez to the DL
The Orioles didn't want Miguel Gonzalez to risk doing worse damage to his healing right thumb blister, so they decided to place the right-hander on the 15-day disabled list before his scheduled throwing session on Thursday.
Both Showalter and Gonzalez are confident the extra rest will allow Gonzalez to return to the starting rotation when he's eligible to be activated May 19 (the DL move is retroactive to May 4.
"We feel confident that doing it this way we can put it behind us and get him ready to make that [next] start," Showalter said. "I just think it's the most prudent thing to do. I don't care what happened today. He's still going to be tentative throwing his breaking ball. If we have [the blister] form again, we're going to have a season-long problem."
Gonzalez was forced from his start Friday in Anaheim after six innings because of the blister.
"It's still a little raw," Gonzalez said. "So that's why they told me, 'Hey, let's get it done and take a step back and not two or three.' I thought it was the right decision. … They don't want me to stop. My arm feels good. They don't want me to sit around. I think it's important for me to keep throwing and stay active."
Gonzalez threw a brief bullpen session Thursday with a bandage covering the blister, throwing nothing but fastballs.
He will travel with the team to Minnesota, where he hopes to throw another bullpen session Sunday that would include breaking balls. If all goes well there, Gonzalez said he could begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment — likely at Double-A Bowie — on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Because the Orioles have two off days next week, Gonzalez will miss just one additional start before he is eligible to come off the DL. He said he's aiming to return for the Orioles' home series against the New York Yankees on May 20-22.
That leaves the Orioles still looking for a starting pitcher for Saturday. The team called up right-hander Alex Burnett to take Gonzalez's spot on the 25-man roster, but he's likely just an additional bullpen arm.
Relievers Tommy Hunter and T.J. McFarland are options for that start, but Hunter wasn't completely stretched out in spring training — his longest Grapefruit League outing was 2 1/3 innings — and McFarland, the team's Rule 5 pick, hasn't pitched in eight days.
That leaves the most likely option at Triple-A Norfolk, where right-hander Steve Johnson is scheduled to start Saturday. The St. Paul's graduate allowed two runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings in his previous start for the Tides.
Roberts' surgery successful
Second baseman Brian Roberts had successful surgery to repair the semitendinosis muscle in his right hamstring Thursday in Dallas. The procedure was performed by Dr. Daniel Cooper.
"Everything went well," Showalter said. "It was very positive. The doctors felt good about getting it done after getting in there. It will speed up the process."
Roberts — who has played in just 118 games since the beginning of the 2010 season because of various injuries and is in the final season of a four-year, $40-million contract — is scheduled to return to his home in Sarasota, Fla., on Friday. He will rehab at the team's spring training facility there.
"We think he's worth waiting on," Showalter said. "It's been tough on him. It would be kind of selfish saying it's tough on us. It's tougher on him. … I know a lot of people will be sarcastic about what he's getting salary-wise. I understand how that works, but we look at it from a baseball standpoint. And he's a baseball player who wants to play baseball and be here and contribute with his teammates."
Around the horn
The Orioles acquired minor league infielder Brandon Wood from the Kansas City Royals on Thursday for cash considerations. Wood, 28, was once of the top prospects in baseball with the Los Angeles Angels, but he has a .186/.225/.289 line in 272 major league games. He will report to Norfolk, where he will add infield depth. Wood, who was hitting .264/.304/.396 in 16 games at Triple-A Omaha, can play all four infield positions. … The Orioles are ranked No. 1 in the lastest Yahoo! team rankings, published Thursday. … Down in Norfolk, first baseman Travis Ishikawa continues to heat up. With two hits Thursday afternoon, Ishikawa extended his hitting streak to 12 games, and he is batting .478 (22-for-46) with three homers, 15 RBIs and nine runs in that span. … Left-hander Zach Britton allowed three runs on five hits over 4 1/3 innings with six strikeouts and four walks for Norfolk on Thursday. He threw 96 pitches, 54 strikes.
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