Hot spring for Orioles' Machado raises expectations: 'He's going to be fun to watch this year'

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Orioles shortstop Manny Machado showed up to camp emboldened by his position change and motivated to get back to his previous All-Star level in what could be his last year with the Orioles.

But his play through the first 19 games of spring training indicates that he wasn't just going to arrive in camp, make that statement, then pack it in until Opening Day. With a double in the fourth inning and an RBI single in the Orioles' three-run sixth inning in a 7-5 win over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday at CenturyLink Sports Complex, Machado continued a spring that's building evidence by the day that the swoon that he carried through much of 2017 is gone.

"Manny's been engaged since the day [we arrived], but a lot of times, that's easy the first week," manager Buck Showalter said. "I think when we're talking about excited or driven or whatever, it gives the connotation that he wasn't before. And that's not the case. It's hard to do it for 162 games, OK? But it's hard to do it for 30 games in the spring. That's been fun to watch, and you can tell he's excited about the upcoming season. It's going to be fun to watch him."

Tuesday's two-hit performance came after he went hitless for just the second time in the spring Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies, and brought his Grapefruit League batting line to .452/.500/.871. Seven of his 14 hits are for extra-bases, including four doubles and three home runs, and he's driven in 15 runs.

There's also been plenty of good situational hitting, staying in the middle of the field with runners on base and using the left-field alley for extra bases when required.

Such spring success is unprecedented for Machado, who typically uses the entirety of it to get ready without much focus on results, but the move to shortstop and the requisite preparation he had to put in overall has him impressing Showalter on several levels.

"Defensively, I love the way he's playing shortstop," Showalter said. "He and [third baseman Tim Beckham] are both playing really well defensively, and of course, [second baseman Jonathan Schoop]. It's been encouraging. But anything Manny does doesn't surprise me anymore."

With the Orioles down 4-0 early because of a rough spring debut for Chris Tillman, Machado and a familiar cast of characters buoyed them offensively and helped erase that deficit. Outfielder Anthony Santander homered for the third time this spring in the seventh inning, a two-run shot that launched his roster candidacy higher. The Orioles got another steady day at the plate from catcher Austin Wynns, who walked and homered in three trips, and designated hitter Pedro Álvarez singled to score Machado in the fourth.

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