With starting shortstop J.J. Hardy sidelined for at least the next four to six weeks with a broken bone in his right wrist, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he will resist the temptation to shift Manny Machado from third base, as he did last season when Hardy missed seven weeks with a foot injury.
Instead, utility man Rubén Tejada — a natural shortstop who was acquired from the New York Yankees for cash less than two weeks ago — will fill the position in Hardy's absence, Showalter said Monday.
"Not at this point," Showalter said when asked whether Machado would move to shortstop. "I'd rather in a perfect world, leave everyone where they are and not disrupt everything. We learned some things last year, none of them bad. But I think we'll probably proceed down the road with Rubén and see. We've got a short look at him, so far so good."
Machado, who was groomed to be a shortstop in the minor leagues before becoming one of the game's top third basemen, made 43 starts at shortstop last season, compiling a .971 fielding percentage (six errors in 207 total chances).
But moving Machado from his premium defensive position at third and giving him the burden of the nuances and mental strain of playing shortstop — from covering ground to quarterbacking the infield — was always a concern for Showalter. The fact that Machado has struggled offensively this season, entering Monday night's game hitting .217/.289/.426 with 13 homers and 32 RBIs, presumably made the decision to keep him at third easier.
"It's pretty taxing — I think — on Manny moving back and forth, especially this time of the year with the number of games he has under his belt," Showalter added. "I want to be careful of that, but he or [second baseman Jonathan Schoop], both could go over there. I think a lot of people miss that about Jon, but I'd rather right now go down the path with Rubén and see how it works."
Tejada is a relative newcomer to the Orioles, but not long ago, he was a well-regarded prospect with the New York Mets. His most recent opportunity to play regularly came two seasons ago with the Mets, when he hit .261/.338/.350 in 116 games, making 65 of his 105 starts at shortstop.
"We're gonna learn," Showalter said. "We're going to, but so far, so good. … I was talking to [Mets manager] Terry Collins and some people, and at some time Terry thought this guy was really going to be [something special] and kind of got into some of the reasons why it kind of went the other direction. It looks like he's got a strong, accurate arm. I really like how he moves his feet to get into the position to throw. We'll see."
Tejada has held his own offensively with the Orioles, going 5-for-20 with two doubles.
Showalter said Tejada has worked with infield coach Bobby Dickerson on fielding mechanics and has already shown improvement.
"Bobby and him have spent a lot of time on some things he needed to clean up," Showalter said. "Trying to take some of the unnecessary movement and some of the inefficient moves [away]. I think it's been great having him here and seeing how Manny and Jon and J.J. go about their business and applying their trade every day. I think it's been really good for them. I don't think it's peer pressure, but his peers have kind of reaffirmed what Bobby's saying to him every day, so I'm looking forward to seeing if he can get back to being that guy. He's put some good at-bats together, too."