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BALTIMORE - Bobbled balls, overthrows, and misplayed pop-ups were just several of the defensive blunders the Orioles endured during the first half of the season.
They had 85 errors through 75 games, and the worst fielding percentage in the majors.
Two months later, things have changed a lot defensively for Baltimore. The Orioles entered Thursday's game with just 12 errors since Aug. 9, for the second-best fielding percentage in the American League.
One of the biggest reasons for Baltimore's improved fielding has been the emergence of 20-year-old Manny Machado at third base. Machado solidified a spot where the Orioles struggled to field a good defender all season.
Prior to Machado being called up to Baltimore on Aug. 9, Orioles third basemen had combined for 24 errors (13 by Wilson Betemit) and were last in the majors with a .914 fielding percentage.
"Manny's been huge," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. "He's played a great third base for us and the most impressive thing is he played two minor-league games at third base. ... For him to be able to move over there and make the adjustments he needs to at this level, it's been real impressive the way he's been able to handle himself over there."
Machado has played every inning at third base since his debut and committed just two errors during that time, a .978 fielding percentage that is third-best among AL third basemen. Machado said the transition to third base has been smooth, but he still feels he can improve.
"It's a reaction position," Machado said. "You don't have time to be moving around and trying to get yourself in the right position. You've just got to react to the ball."
Machado had stellar defensive outings against Tampa Bay this week, particularly a game-saving play in the ninth inning on Wednesday. Machado then singled to lead off the home half of the ninth and went on to score the game-winning run.
"We've come up with some nice plays and we've got out of some tough innings," Machado said. "We help out our pitchers and [it] just gives us some motivation to go into our clubhouse, and our dugout, to get fired up for our at-bats."
It also doesn't hurt Machado to have the best defending shortstop in the league, statistically, in J.J. Hardy beside him. Hardy entered the weekend with an AL-best .991 fielding percentage and a league-high 469 assists.
"[He] has the best hands in the big leagues, I think, by far," Machado said.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he is impressed with both players defensively, and said he thought Hardy made a tremendous play to begin Tuesday night's game.
"He made a great play on [Evan] Longoria right out of the chute," Showalter said on Tuesday. "A lot of guys don't make that play and he's got a great clock and that's one of the reasons why we felt comfortable calling Manny up, to be playing right there beside J.J."
The Orioles also improved other areas of their defense late in the season. Former Gold Glove winner Nate McLouth has committed just one error in 36 games in the outfield.
Mark Reynolds' move to first base has also boded well for Baltimore. He had 11 errors this year entering the weekend, five at first base, after committing 26 errors last season.
The Orioles have gone 21-11 since Machado has been in Baltimore, and they've played good defense on a nightly basis.
"Defense is like hitting," Wieters said. "Once you get some confidence and get rolling, you can carry that for a while."
The Orioles will need to keep playing solid defense if they want to play into October, and Wieters said that he realizes that.
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"You still don't win games unless you get good pitching and good defense," Wieters said. "We ultimately know to get to the playoffs, and to win in the playoffs, that's going to be at a premium."