SEATTLE — Manny Machado spoke very openly Monday about how much he misses having Nelson Cruz around the Orioles clubhouse.
And it isn't just the offensive contributions Machado says he misses — though Cruz is having a career season, hitting .324 with 33 homers and 69 RBIs — but the mentorship the Seattle Mariners star provided young players like himself.
"It's not something that's surprising, because I know what he can do," Machado said of Cruz's season. "I know the type of player he is. It just [stinks] that he's not on our side helping us out. … We could use those numbers, hands down. It would have been a different story if he was here, but not just because of his numbers, but what he brought to the table every day."
The 22-year-old Machado said he has learned a lot about friendship from Cruz, who played only one season in Baltimore but led the majors with 40 homers and helped guide the Orioles to a division crown and the American League Championship Series. Cruz signed a four-year, $57 million contract with the Mariners in the offseason, a price the Orioles were not willing to pay to keep Cruz in orange and black.
"He came over here and he kind of took us under his wing, me and [Jonathan Schoop]," Machado said. "He taught us a lot of things and he was a father mentor for us. He's a big brother. Even though it [stinks] that he's not on our team, he's the type of guy who was always loved here, who always got along with everybody, who brought that energy we needed and passed [it] along to everybody every day."
When Machado held his second annual charity bowling tournament, the Mariners were in town. Cruz called Machado and asked whether he could come. The night before the Orioles opened their series in Seattle, Cruz invited Machado over to his house.
Asked whether they would remain friends despite being separated, Machado said: "Hell yeah, hands down, no matter where he goes. He's that's type of guy, no matter what. He came out to my charity event. I wasn't even the one who called him. I didn't want to bother him. I know he's busy. He called me up and said, 'Hey, I know you're having your charity event. Can I pass by? … My daughter and kids, they'd love to bowl.' … That's just the type of person he is. I think the relationship we built last year, it's not just going year to year, but it's a lifetime relationship we'll have."
Britton's 1 2/3-inning effort was part dominating and part gritty. He allowed two hits in the ninth and uncorked a wild pitch, but he also stranded two runners — one inherited — and struck out four of the eight batters he faced. One of them, Austin Jackson, swung and missed at a hard sinker that got past catcher Caleb Joseph and allowed Franklin Gutierrez, who had doubled at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat, to score an unearned run. With two outs away, it was a one-run game.
As the inning unfolded, the Orioles couldn't have been feeling good. Momentum was shifting, the Safeco Field crowd was getting into the game, and Britton's pitch count was getting up.
"It was tough," Britton said. "[They] had some pretty good at-bats. Gutierrez was probably one of the better at-bats someone's had off me all year, so that was a nice battle. It's fun. You want to win. I've never faced him before. [Gutierrez] got a pitch up [at] 3-2, so that extended the inning right there. The ball was kind of cutting a little bit when my pitch count got up, and that [wild pitch] was a tough ball for Caleb. But just tried to battle, really, and get strike one on those guys. I think that was the big thing. I got ahead of most of those hitters, so it put me in a good spot."
Even though Britton's pitch count was elevating, Orioles manager Buck Showalter had faith in his closer, especially since he hadn't pitched since Wednesday in Oakland. Showalter said he also wasn't going to use four of his relievers, which is why he recalled Mychal Givens while Chaz Roe's availability was uncertain. Roe was placed on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis before the game.
So will Britton be available Tuesday? It's hard to imagine.
"We'll see tomorrow," Showalter said Monday. "I've said all along, when he's had three or four days off or we have an off-day in between, with a game on our line, [he's] one of our best pitchers. But I'm not going to put him in harm's way."