Orioles third baseman Manny Machado said that serving his four-game suspension “felt like forever.” That's understandable given that Machado had played in every game since the beginning of the 2015 season. But Machado attempted to put the whole situation behind him Friday as he returned to the team's lineup for the Orioles' 6-3 series-opening win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
“[It felt] like not playing for a couple weeks,” Machado said. “It's totally different watching the game on TV versus being on the field or even watching from the dugout on the field. It was kind of weird, but at the same time, it was good to get off my feet a little bit. Recuperate and work on some things I needed to do. Overall, it was a good week for the team and a good week for myself.”
Machado's return to the lineup — he batted third Friday — allowed manager Buck Showalter to stack the top of his batting order with five hitters with at least 12 homers: leadoff man Adam Jones (14), Jonathan Schoop (12), Machado (18), Mark Trumbo (21) and Chris Davis (16).
And in the win over the Rays, Machado was 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an opposite-field solo homer in the eighth off Rays reliever Steve Geltz.
"It's awesome," Orioles right-hander Yovani Gallardo said. "He's a big part of this team. Everybody looks to the things he does, both defensively and offensively, and they should. He's out four games, hits a home run the other way. It's nice."
Machado also had a key infield single during the Orioles' four-run sixth against Rays starter Matt Moore. Machado was the third of five straight Orioles hitters to reach base in the sixth.
“It feels good to be back out there,” Machado said. “It feels good to be back on the field and part of something. It's a special thing we have here going on. And being away from it a couple days was a downer. I was just excited to be back around my teammates and get a win today.”
Before the game, Machado said he wouldn't do anything differently if the situation that prompted his discipline arose again. Machado was suspended for charging the mound and throwing a punch at Kansas City Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura on June 7 after he was hit in the back with a first-pitch 99-mph fastball. It prompted a benches-clearing brawl between the teams.
"Why would I act differently?" Machado said. "The situation happened. Things happened. Baseball's baseball. You step between the lines and baseball has to be played and there are certain situations that you've got to put your ego aside and become a man. When somebody's throwing at you and trying to hurt you, you've got to do what you've got to do."
Before Machado was hit, Ventura brushed him back twice in his previous at-bat, igniting tension between the two. Ventura and Machado then exchanged words after Machado watched a long fly ball kept in the ballpark by a stiff wind. Both Machado and Chris Davis were hit by Ventura in a game last September.
Machado has previously expressed frustration with the discipline Major League Baseball issued him, especially compared to Ventura, who essentially missed just one start with his suspension — a nine-game penalty that was reduced to eight games.
"It's something MLB has to look at and hopefully one day they can step in the box," Machado said. "… Most of those guys making decisions have never had dirt in their cleats."
Machado's suspension ended his 229-game consecutive games played streak, the longest active streak in the majors. But Showalter said the time off gave Machado some needed rest.
“I don't think it will hurt him at all,” Showalter said. “I know I was talking to him today about what he had been doing. Did he watch every pitch? He said, ‘Yeah, I saw every pitch.' I said, ‘What did you get out of it?' He said how easy the game looks there compared to how hard it is. How slow it looks on TV and how fast it is when you play it. And the umpires are a little better than sometimes we think they are. Every ball that's hit he thinks is going out of the park.
“It's fun just to sit there and watch. It's like watching a golf tournament at a course that you played at. You've got a better feel for it. Hopefully, he can start another streak. I was going to give him a couple games anyway, but some other people took care of that. Ventura took care of that.”
Machado's suspension was costly to the Orioles in two ways. They not only had to play without arguably their best player but also were forced to play down one man with just 24 active players.
"They did everything they could," Machado said. "I might have been 0-for-4 with four strikeouts those days. You don't know how baseball is. I think they did a good job and did everything they could. The worst part is that we had 24 guys. We could have used an extra guy on the bench. That could have been a difference. I think they did everything. They handled the situation. That's who we are. We deal with adversity."
The return of Machado, who was met by a loud ovation from the crowd at Camden Yards when he was introduced before his first at-bat Friday, marked just the second time since early May that the Orioles had their entire starting infield together. Gold Glove shortstop J.J. Hardy returned from a seven-week disabled list stint on June 18 and Machado began serving his suspension the next day.
"I think we knew that if something was to happen to any one of our guys, we have guys who are capable of it," Jones said. "J.J. goes down and Manny hasn't been at short in so many years, but slides right over there and I think he's done a hell of a job at shortstop. Now Manny can go back to third base and rest his legs a little bit and J.J.'s got fresh feet after a few weeks. I think that shores up our defense and it also adds to our offense with J.J. coming back."
The Orioles were 2-2 in Machado's absence. In their two losses, the Orioles offense wasn't absent. They had 15 hits in a 4-3 loss in Texas on Monday and blew a three-run seventh-inning lead in a 10-7 loss to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday.
"What's the saying? The greatest thing parents can do is teach your kids to survive without them," Showalter said. "That's kind of how we have to be, and if we're dependent on one player, we're not going to get this done. … Nobody liked it and we just don't dwell on it. I think that happens a lot during the course of the season.
"I don't know how many times we're going to have the nine guys we thought we'd have actually on the field the whole season. It doesn't happen very often. You see it a lot. It seems like you take a little inventory every time there's an anthem and everybody's standing out there. It reminds you of who is there and who is not there, but you might find something you didn't expect there."
Following this weekend's home series against Tampa Bay, the Orioles begin a stretch of 16 road games in 19 contests that takes them past the All-Star break and into late July. But Machado said he's looking forward to having the core group together for the first time since the season's opening month for that challenge.
"We have health back on the team," Machado said. "J.J. is a big part of this team and he was gone for a little bit and we stepped up in key situations to help him out. To have everybody back on the field and have all of us back healthy, the sky's the limit. We have the team back that [executive vice president] Dan [Duquette] and Buck put together and we're just excited to go out there and keep playing and finish strong. There's a lot of games left. … A lot of baseball to be played."