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Orioles' Manny Machado, with two homers Thursday, shows progress from last year's inconsistency

An Orioles team that kept Manny Machado and moved him to shortstop has plenty of problems through three weeks of baseball. He is not one of them.

With both his — and the team's — second multihomer game of the season in Thursday's 13-8 loss to the Chicago White Sox, Machado has been solid after a terribly inconsistent 2017 season.

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With the team returning home nine games below .500, it's turned out that having a healthy and productive Machado hasn't changed their fortunes. But however his season is assessed — whether it's his ability to keep the Orioles afloat, his own personal fortunes entering a money-spinning free-agent winter, or his attractiveness to contenders should the Orioles try to trade him — days like Thursday show just what a team might be getting.

"It's a discipline, a maturity," manager Buck Showalter said. "That second and third, [one-out at-bat in the seventh inning Thursday] — even though it was a ground ball, I was telling him at the mound with one of the visits I had there, those are the ones where you can't give an at-bat away late in the game when it looks like it's going to be rough.

"That's a sign of maturity, and a lot of people will say it's padding stats when it doesn't matter. It does matter. Those are the ones you can't throw away if you want to put together a consistent year, and he's done a better job of that this year."

Machado had too many days when he didn't do that last season en route to a .259/.310/.471 line, albeit with 33 home runs. This year, he entered Friday having homered a team-high five times while driving in 14 runs and batting .338/.414/.623. He ranked eighth in the game with 1.1 wins above replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs.

He doesn't see anything remarkable in posting up when the team is down, even if Showalter does.

"Until that last out is made, we're trying to put up runs, we're trying to get outs, we're trying to do everything we can to win," Machado said. "If we're down by a couple runs, we have a great team and we can come back and win the game. You never give up. You've got to go out there and keep playing the game and not take anything for granted."

With a pair of knee surgeries behind him and a 2017 season that dinged his value some, Machado has plenty to play for in 2018. He's part of a premier free-agent class, and gets to play potentially his final year in an Orioles uniform at shortstop.

Whether he can handle the position over an entire season isn't something that can be settled in three weeks, but his habit of turning in highlight-worthy plays has carried over from third base.

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