ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Manny Machado has had stretches in his career when he's been this hot at the plate, but never so early in the season.
Machado, who is hitting the ball to all fields and producing more power than usual, typically shows this version of himself in June. With his typical midseason form emerging so soon, his teammates are making some bold claims about him — and they're only kind of joking.
"It's funny," shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "Watching these games, I've said it several times: 'There's no reason he shouldn't hit .400 this year.' It looks, at times, so easy for him."
The beginning of 2016 has been one of those times. Machado had an American League-leading 15 hits entering Thursday night's game against the Texas Rangers, with three home runs and three doubles helping him to a team-high 1.281 OPS.
Machado went 1-for-4 in Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Rangers. While his average dropped to .421, optimism is high over a player who typically doesn't find his power stroke until later in the season.
"He's just so engaged in the preparation for the game, for the competition," manager Buck Showalter said. "He's just so driven. I can see it in some of my conversations with him in the spring. It's all about winning, but it's also about being ready to contribute for his team and his teammates. He's been so mature about the whole thing. It's been fun to watch."
Showalter said history is against Hardy's prediction — and Hardy and Machado pretty much agree. But after some prodding, Machado acknowledges that things feel different this April.
"I just feel good," Machado said. "I'm just playing baseball, man. I'm just going out there, doing what I can do. You can't control things. We're going to go in a slump. I'm going to go 0-for-30 eventually. That's just part of it.
"It's just the situation where I started off a little hotter than I have. It's still early. It's only [eight] games that we've played. I have a whole lot more at-bats to go to. I just try to do my stuff, stick with my plan and stick with my routine."
Said second baseman Jonathan Schoop: "He's in a zone. He's Manny. He's really good. Every year, he's getting better."
Part of the hot start is health, Machado said. For the first time since he entered his first full season in the majors in 2013, he had no injuries that had to heal in the offseason.
He hasn't started poorly in years past.
He's a career .309 hitter in the first month of the season. But go through his entire career, and stretches like the one he's enjoying now typically come later.
In 2013, he had three home runs and four doubles to go along with a .400 average from April 28 to May 5.
In 2014, Machado hit .457/.486/.943 with five home runs and a pair of doubles over eight games between June 27 and July 9. Last season, it was five home runs over eight games between June 11 and June 18, a stretch where he hit .419/.500/.903.
"You don't want to get too far ahead of yourself, but a lot of really good players can have streaks where they can carry a team, and they can put up ridiculous numbers," Hardy said.
"Even the really good players only do it a couple times a year. If he's getting off to a start like this, who knows how long he'll be able to keep it going? But the fact that he can do it now, then do it again in May, then do it again in June — yeah, it's good for us as a team, and it's really good for him."
Machado has done more than just hit over this stretch.
He's showing almost preternatural instincts on the bases, scoring an insurance run from third base on a ball that barely squirted off the dirt around home plate on Sunday.
He also took extra bases on Monday, and even when it didn't work — as in his attempted steal of third Wednesday — no one seems to mind.
"I'm not going to go down there and beat up on him," Showalter said.
"He felt it, he went for it, and it didn't work out. If he gets to third and the next pitch is a breaking ball in the dirt that goes to the backstop and he scores, we're all talking about what a great play it was."
Machado said he finds focusing on things like his base-running and Gold Glove defense allows him to have the early success he's had at the plate.
"If you do the little things, a lot of things will come right for the rest of the year," Machado said. "You've got to go out there, have fun and play the small ball and just play as a team.
"When you're off to a good start as a team, it's a whole lot easier to go out there and play."