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After tumultuous offseason, Orioles' Manny Machado enjoying 'awesome' start to spring

Orioles writers Peter Schmuck, Eduardo A. Encina, and Jon Meoli discuss the hot spring start of Manny Machado and whether or not there’s any concern in Dylan Bundy’s rough spring start.

SARASOTA, FLA. — Three months ago, it was unclear if the Orioles would be embarking on this spring training with infielder Manny Machado among their ranks at all.

Now that they have him, freshly motivated with his desire to move to shortstop accommodated and the free-agency finish line that has loomed over him for years in sight, they're seeing a form of Machado they've rarely seen in Sarasota, Fla.

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Machado, playing in his fifth Grapefruit League game, swatted his second home run Friday as part of a three-hit, four-RBI day as the Orioles' starters left with a 10-7 lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates before 5,265 at Ed Smith Stadium.

He added a double down the left-field line to score left fielder Trey Mancini in the first inning, cued a slow roller past first baseman Josh Bell in the third inning and scored three with a no-doubt home run to left field in the six-run fourth inning.

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"It's been awesome," Machado said. "I'm getting some reps at short, and doing all the work that I could be doing early in camp and getting as much reps as I can at short. It's been awesome, and the team is looking pretty good."

That Machado turns to his defensive position when discussing what's been a scalding start to spring training is no coincidence. He's been energized by the team's decision to move him to shortstop and Tim Beckham to third base after an offseason of trade rumors that put Machado’s Orioles future in jeopardy.

While he's in for a taxing defensive season at a position with many more opportunities and more physical demands than third base, he's told teammates and coaches he's as excited as he's ever been for a season, and is swinging like it so far, too. Machado is 8-for-13 with four extra-base hits and eight RBIs so far this spring.

Spring success of any kind is uncharacteristic for him, but he's enjoying every aspect of Sarasota.

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"I have no idea," Machado said. "I guess luck. I've got to slow down a little bit and try to get some hits for April, May, June, July. I'm just going out there and enjoying myself. I'm excited to be here and excited to be part of this ballclub. I'm just going out there every day with the guys I've been competing with and rolling with for the last seven years. It's been amazing."

“It seems like he’s had some good streaks, but he’s in a good place,” manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s swinging it well. I wouldn’t say it’s any better than he has in other periods. … I don’t pay that much attention to it this time of year unless it’s real, real bad.”

While there's plenty to the notion that players should separate defense and hitting when one aspect or the other is scuffling, it seems it's all working in concert for Machado, albeit with just under four weeks remaining in spring training — a long way to go before any of the good feeling he's brought to the first week of Grapefruit League games means something.

With the midpoint of spring training approaching, resetting the five major storylines the Orioles will be looking to sort out before heading north for Opening Day.

But after batting .259/.310/.471 with 33 home runs in 2017 for what few others than him would consider a down season, Machado has a complete season in mind for when things start to count.

"I've got to be a leader out there on defense, and whatever happens at the plate, leave it in the dugout and things will always turn out," Machado said. "The struggles that I had last year, I learned a lot about putting all that in the past. You can't control the outcome of anything, but you can go out there and work hard and you can win the game in other aspects of it. Now, playing at short, I'm going to have more opportunities to try and save some runs and help the team win. That's all we can do."

Around the horn

Showalter laid out his starting pitchers well into next week after the game, with Kevin Gausman starting against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., on Saturday and Chris Tillman throwing a two-inning simulated game at the Ed Smith Stadium complex Saturday morning. Gabriel Ynoa will start Sunday against the Boston Red Sox, Hunter Harvey will start Tuesday at the Minnesota Twins while Andrew Cashner throws a three-inning simulated game in Sarasota, and Dylan Bundy will be back Wednesday.

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