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Orioles' Manny Machado 'here to play baseball,' but weather delays his return

Manny Machado arrived at Camden Yards on Tuesday afternoon, confident that he was ready to return to the club's starting lineup after offseason knee surgery and a tedious rehabilitation process.

But the Orioles' All-Star third baseman couldn't control the weather.

Machado's highly anticipated season debut was delayed at least one day when the Orioles' game against the Pittsburgh Pirates was postponed because of rain and rescheduled for Thursday at 7:05 p.m.

Before the postponement, the Orioles planned to start Machado at third base Tuesday following a three-game minor league rehab assignment with High-A Frederick.

"I'm here to play baseball," Machado, 21, said Tuesday before the game was rained out. "If it is snow, if it is rain, if it is whatever. I've been down in Florida with a lot of sun. So I'm just here to play baseball, whatever the climate throws out there, I'm going to go out there and play no matter what.

After Machado went 8-for-12 in three games — including two at third base — with Frederick over the weekend, the Orioles and Machado agreed that he was ready to return.

"Felt good, felt great," Machado said about his time with Frederick. "Body feels good. Needed to work on some things, got it done. Now it's just go on to the next step. It's all about steps. I thought I was physically and mentally ready to come up here and be part of this team again. Here I am."

Including simulated and extended spring training games at the club's facility in Sarasota, Fla., Machado has accumulated more than 50 plate appearances.

"He's been around the baseball atmosphere and seen pitching for quite a period of time now," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "This is not where he's been in the training room, and all of a sudden, went and played three games in Frederick. … This is Manny's call as much as anything because we talked to him, and certainly he's been really mature about taking wanting to be here so badly out of it, and if anything, he's helped kind of slow the process down a little bit."

There was question within the organization whether Machado needed to participate in minor league games at a higher level — such at Triple-A Norfolk — before rejoining the major league club. But Machado's rehab at Frederick focused on testing the strength of his surgically-repaired left knee and within his left leg, specifically with making cuts on defense, running the bases and sliding.

"It was more of repetition, getting out there, running the bases, playing nine innings, being on my feet," Machado said. "On the mental side, it was just trying to get prepared for a long season and getting back in that routine of being part of a team and being ready to go every day and perform at an elite level. … I felt ready a couple days ago, that I was able to play every day and get on the field and play nine innings, play extra innings, whatever it may be."

Said Showalter of Machado: "The good thing is, he knows what's needed up here to play at this level, and I've got a lot of faith in him. I told you a few days ago, it was a baseball decision, not a medical decision, with the number of plate appearances, and the number of people that have seen him. I think this is the next step, and just because he doesn't get a hit for a few games, that can happen anyways."

Because of the rainout, the Orioles will wait to officially activate Machado until before Wednesday's game, weather permitting. After re-signing first baseman-outfielder Steve Pearce on Tuesday, the team must open a 25-man roster spot to add Machado.

Showalter said there's no concern about Machado playing his first game in unfavorable weather conditions. The forecast Wednesday calls for rain throughout the day.

"That's why the good Lord allows you to simulate those things in Frederick," Showalter said. "There were a couple calls down there about some games he played in Sarasota."

Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy said it will be nice to have Machado back next to him on the left side of the infield.

The club's infield has been beset by injuries over the first month. Besides Machado, Hardy missed eight games with back and hamstring injuries, and the Orioles placed first baseman Chris Davis on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with a left oblique strain.

"We played [153] games together on the left side of the infield last year, so it's going to be nice to be looking over to my right and being pretty familiar with each other," Hardy said. "We're all happy to a have him back."

Showalter insisted that Machado's arrival wasn't accelerated by the loss of Davis, and Machado echoed that.

"I didn't even put that into perspective," Machado said. "It [stinks] that CD is gone. That is the heart of the lineup. … I know he is bummed about it. I know he wants to be out there every day. But this was all up to me. It was my decision to come up here and rejoin the team."

Showalter said the team will continue to monitor Machado physically after his return to the lineup.

"We're certainly going to take a look every day on where he is, but we do that with all the guys that have had some things," Showalter said. "We'll take each day as it comes and get feedback from him, and his knee will give him feedback."

But after not playing in a major league game since September, Machado said he is more than ready to return.

"I'm ready to play baseball," Machado said. "I'm going to go out there and make whatever play comes my way. I made a couple of nice plays in the lower levels, and I feel good defensively. I feel great [there]. I'm not concerned about anything.

"I'm a baseball player, and I've been doing this my whole life. I'm just going to go out there, and whatever comes my way, just go out there and do it, and play some baseball, and have some fun at the same time while I'm doing it."

eencina@baltsun.com

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