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Orioles analysis: Defense winning games for O's

BALTIMORE - From barehanded plays by third baseman Manny Machado to diving stops in the hole by shortstop J.J. Hardy, the Baltimore Orioles have had their fair share of dazzling defensive plays early in the season.

It's been no secret that the Orioles' sharp defensive play has been a key reason for the team's success since last August. That was when Machado was called up from Class-AA Bowie and Nate McLouth was called up from Class-AAA Norfolk.

Both moves gave the club a much needed boost on defense. And this year, the defense has been equally impressive.

In the 86 games since Machado arrived, the Orioles have the highest team fielding percentage in baseball at .991. Machado has garnered national attention for his stellar defense at third base, a position he had played just twice prior to last August.

From Opening Day 2012 up to the day of Machado's debut, the Orioles had the worst fielding percentage in all of baseball.

Since his debut on Aug. 9 of last year, Machado has the most putouts (70) and assists (181) of any third baseman in the majors.

"That helps out our pitchers, less pitches they have to make," Machado said. "It's going to get us out of innings quicker and give us a chance to score some more runs for them."

The 20-year-old has made heads turn with his defensive play. Not only those watching him, but his teammates as well.

"To be 20 years old and to be able to switch over to third base from shortstop and be as aware as he is, make the plays that he's been making," Hardy said. "Unbelievable."

Hardy's been impressive in the field as well. Coming off of his first Gold Glove last season, he has been a key part in the team's fielding prowess as well.

Baltimore is tied for the third-fewest errors in the majors this season with 11.

"Anytime you're catching the ball and throwing the ball, it's going to help your team win," Hardy said. "Especially with our pitchers, the way they've been throwing strikes and getting contact. We've got to make every out we can."

While both Hardy and Machado were expected to flash the leather, the right side of the Orioles infield had lower expectations. But Baltimore manager Buck Showalter has been impressed with first baseman Chris Davis and second baseman Ryan Flaherty in the field.

For Flaherty, his defense may be what's keeping him in the lineup on a regular basis. He is hitting .122 but has played solid defense.

"Ryan very quietly has really turned some double plays," Showalter said. "He really worked hard on that in the spring. I don't want to jinx him, but he's really done a good job on the pivot in the middle of the infield."

The 26-year-old has been perfect at second this season, committing no errors, and registering 64 assists and 38 putouts entering Friday.

Davis, who was a first baseman in the Texas organization, played the position in just 38 games last year, as he was unseated by Mark Reynolds. Although he had a costly error the second game of the season, Davis has not committed an error since.

"The way he's impacted our club defensively has been really impressive," Showalter said. "I think we all knew in our heart that he was better than he showed last year."

The Orioles are also helped out by a trio of former Gold Glove-winning outfielders in McLouth, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis. And a Gold Glove catcher in Matt Wieters. Ever since the defense started to turn around, Baltimore has fared well. In fact, the Orioles had the best record in all of baseball from July 29, 2012 to Friday at 62-34.

Showalter said defense is not just important at the major-league level, but throughout the farm system as well.

"It's a real point of emphasis throughout the organization that if you're going to have trouble defending, you're going to have trouble getting here," Showalter said. "We don't want to be developing DH's."

Hardy said the team is going to continue to work hard to keep their defense at a high level.

"Teams are going to take advantage of it when you give them extra outs, Hardy said. "We haven't been, so our record shows."

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