Orioles hope return of Manny Machado's all-around game can put them squarely back into pennant race

Manny Machado is one of the game's few talents who can carry a team with his bat and his glove. And as the Orioles attempt to get back into the playoff race with the nonwaiver trade deadline looming, there's no coincidence that their recent surge correlates with their 25-year-old superstar third baseman finding his all-around game.

Machado made several sparkling defensive plays in the Orioles' 5-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night, none more spectacular than a 5-4-3 double-play he started with second baseman Jonathan Schoop to help right-hander Kevin Gausman escape the first inning, an injection of life that fueled Gausman to six scoreless innings.


Left-hander Wade Miley allowed five runs in the second inning, including a three-run homer to shortstop Tim Beckham, in the Orioles' 5-4 loss to the Rays.

A performance like that one can overshadow what Machado has recently been able to do with the bat over the past two weeks, looking as if he’s finally breaking out of a season-long batting-average slump by not trying to do too much at the plate.

Machado’s power numbers are there — his 18 homers and 52 RBIs fall short of last year’s pace but are still solid — but he’s struggled with his average all season, unable to break .240 since the first week. At times, he appeared to be swinging from his heels, a far cry from the slick gap-to-gap stroke that made him one of the game’s brightest young stars.

This season, he's hit the ball hard — his 92.2-mph average exit velocity this season ranked sixth highest in the majors — but has far less to show for his swings.

But over his past 14 games entering Tuesday night, Machado hit .370/.453/.519 with 11 RBIs. After spending nearly two months under 220, he raised his batting average 22 points to .238.


"It would be hard to put your finger on, but I think the biggest thing is realizing that he's not going to get everything back with one at-bat," manager Buck Showalter said. "I think he's kind of shown some maturity with [that]. He's spoiled us with one of the top levels in the game, but I know it's frustrating for him. … I think Manny not so much got over the frustration of it. … He's never said, 'Well, it's just going to be one of those years.' … He doesn't do that. He continues to impact our team defensively and I'm proud of him. He's fought his way through it. It's one of those things, especially as a young player, that you'll always reach back for that when you go through a period [like that], because everybody gets that thrown at him."

In Monday's win, Machado didn't swing for the fences with the Orioles trying to cushion a one-run lead in the eighth inning. With the bases loaded, Machado took Sergio Romo's first-pitch slider up the middle for a two-run double that was the key hit in a three-run inning.

A day earlier — with the Orioles attempting to salvage a win in their three-game series against the American League-best Houston Astros — Machado had two runners in scoring position with one out in the eighth in a tie game. He made sure he sent the ball to the outfield instead of trying to hit it over the fence, and his sacrifice fly was a reward for his discipline in a two-run inning during which the offense passed the baton as the Orioles won, 9-7.

"I'm going to play the game," Machado said. "I'm not going to be selfish and try to hit a three-run homer. I put it up in the air and if it goes out it goes out, but if not we get the RBI. We get that run in, and that's the most important. That led to scoring two runs that inning. Those are the things you need to keep doing, keep playing as a team. Take at-bats away and all those things will come around."

"Like we always say with Cooly [hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh], 'Look at the scoreboard, look at the runners and it's going to tell you how they're going to pitch you and it's going to tell you what you're going to need to do with that at-bat," Machado said.

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Machado has played Gold Glove-caliber defense all season. His first-inning double play with Schoop on Monday drew national attention. Inside the Orioles clubhouse, it was nothing new.

"It becomes pretty normal for us in here," said shortstop J.J. Hardy, who said he frequently watches for the opposing team's third-base coach's reaction on those plays. "I've told people that they can turn double plays that no one else in baseball can turn. We get kind of spoiled as many times as they do it. It's impressive. Those two guys are impressive."

Machado made five sparkling plays at third Monday, starting another double play with Schoop that saved a run in the fifth, short-hopping a high chopper the next inning, ranging near the bullpens in left-field foul ground to catch a foul pop, and then a running, backhanded play down the line — a grab similar to the first-inning double-play ball — that helped close out the game in the ninth.

On each play — as he often does on defense — he make it look easy. And now at the plate, he's finally finding himself at the right time.

"I don't want him to get humbled," Showalter said. "He's already a pretty humble guy as it is. He may not project that look, but he's a fan of the game. He loves the game, and he realizes how hard it comes. As easy as he makes it look sometimes, that's not the way he approaches it."

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