Bold Callup Benefits Both Machado/Orioles
BALTIMORE—What is a team to do when its defense leads the majors in errors and third base has become a revolving door, with players and ground balls passing through it?
Call up a 20-year-old shortstop from Double-A and make him the starter.
Sounds crazy, but it worked for the Orioles, who summoned Manny Machado from Bowie on Aug. 9, put him on the hot corner and didn't get burned.
From Opening Day through Aug. 8, Orioles third basemen combined for 24 errors and ranked last in the majors with a .914 fielding percentage. The club posted a .980 fielding percentage, also ranking last.
Machado played every inning at third after being promoted and committed just five errors, for the fifth-best fielding percentage among American League third basemen (.967) with at least 50 games played. The Orioles made just 19 errors for a .990 fielding percentage after Machado joined the team—both tops in the majors.
"Yeah, we dodged some baseball gods' rules of thumb with some of the defense early on, and we knew that would catch up with us," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I think when you bring a young player up, they're going to have ups and downs offensively. It's the biggest jump in professional sports from the minor leagues to the major leagues in the level of play. You all have heard this.
"Guys come out of (college to) the NFL and they are all-pro. Guys come out of high school and they play in the NBA. In baseball, their ability to play defense is what allows you to keep running them out there while they figure it out offensively, and that was the one barometer we kept talking to our guys in the minor leagues about defensively. They felt like he could do fine there, and they were right."
Double-A manager Gary Kendall certainly agreed. "I always felt he was a player who would rise to the occasion," he said.
Ahead Of Schedule
The call came sooner than planned. The Orioles intended to promote Machado to Triple-A Norfolk this summer while keeping him at shortstop, his position since they made him the third overall pick in 2010 out of high school in Miami. Machado played third twice at Bowie this year and took ground balls three or four times a week. That's it.
Circumstances changed and Machado met the challenge head-on—and not just defensively. He went 6-for-16 with a double, triple, three homers, seven RBIs, five runs and a 1.500 OPS in his first four big league games, and he received center fielder Adam Jones' shaving cream pie in the face as a reward.
At 20 years, 35 days old, Machado became the first player in modern major league history with two homers and a triple through his first two career games. He was the youngest to have a multi-homer game in either his first or second career game. In 191 at-bats, which removed his rookie status for next season, Machado hit .262/.294/.445 with eight doubles, three triples, seven homers and 26 RBIs.
He wasn't done. In Game Three of the American League Division Series, he joined Mickey Mantle and Miguel Cabrera as the only 20-year-olds to homer in the playoffs. Andruw Jones and Bryce Harper did it at 19.
"It's a different game in the playoffs," Machado said. "It just prepares me for next year and prepares us for next year, to come out and be ready. Every game counts, every hit, every out. Everything you do out here on the field counts and you've got to stay focused the whole game."
Machado's defense at third base kept overshadowing his exploits at the plate. His range, instincts, soft hands and cannon arm belied his youth and inexperience.
"Manny is a very talented player, and I think ultimately the experience at third base will make him a better shortstop," Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. said. "He's got all kinds of tools. He doesn't play like he's 20.
"I've always been impressed with him, even the first day I saw him. When he came to (short-season) Aberdeen, Buck came up to watch him on an off-day, and I sat with him and watched Manny. He was very mature even at an early age in the field and at the plate."
Machado relied on veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy to assist him with positioning against certain hitters.
"He's made some nice plays, and he's made the routine plays," Hardy said. "He looks comfortable. I think sometimes the guys will come up and can look like a deer in headlights, but he's always aware of what's going on. (He's) always checking with the second baseman to see if he's going to be at second on a certain play. He's impressed me with that."
It came with practice rather than in games before he left Bowie.
"I wouldn't say I'm surprised, but you know, I'm athletic and I'm a shortstop," Machado said. "It's a tough adjustment (playing third base), but I think I've done pretty well. Whenever I had time, I'd go out there and work on whatever I needed to work on. I had my routine that I did every day and I just tried to stay with it."
You're Headed To The Show
Kendall told Machado about his promotion as the Baysox were gathering in the lobby of the team hotel during a road trip in Altoona. The Orioles' No. 2 prospect and the 11th overall in baseball was skipping Triple-A and going directly into a pennant race.
"It wasn't even crossing my mind I could get called up," Machado said. "When (Kendall) gave me the news I was just in shock. I didn't know what to say. I was tingling everywhere. Once I settled in, I told my mom, 'You have to look for a flight to come to Baltimore.' She said, 'Why?' I told her, 'I'm going to Baltimore to play tomorrow.' She thought I was lying. We shared that moment together and it was a great feeling.
"When I came up here, they were already a team. They brought me in and showed me the ropes, and it was a great experience. I love being around these guys."
Jones sent Machado a text message that night.
"I told him to come here, be himself and have fun. Don't do anything different," Jones said. "The game is the same. It just matters here a little bit more."
Machado had not received an invitation to big league spring training this year, but he spent lots of time in major league camp and bonded with Jones, just as he did the previous year.
"I was glad I was able to talk to him a lot in spring and keep his head straight," Jones said. "I told him, 'Go out and ball. The only place to play is the majors. The minors suck. How does it feel to be on a bus all the time? This is the place you want to be. Even when you are tired you have to get after it.' Manny has been rewarded for his hard work."
So have the Orioles, who intend to keep Machado at third base next season. "Have you seen him play?" general manager Dan Duquette said. "How's he look? He looks like a big leaguer, doesn't he? He looks pretty good to me."
"One thing about Manny is he's a hard worker," Kendall said. "He's got his routine down. He has a tremendous aptitude for picking up things and he's always seeking information, and there's no better place than in Baltimore."
Probably the last place anyone expected to find Machado this year, besides third base.