Courtesy of Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Is Spring Training big for Orioles' Machado?

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One of the bigger story lines for the Baltimore Orioles in 2014 will be Manny Machado coming back from his injured knee. (At least an early story line that is.) The rough timeline that the Orioles have been given regarding Machado is six months, which puts him right up against Opening Day. Obviously that’s the biggest deal to the Orioles in terms of Machado; the fact that he’s ready for Opening Day. However that in and of itself remains to be seen. Luckily Machado’s young, which means that perhaps he’ll have an easier time bouncing back quickly than someone that’s been around a bit longer.

However if Machado is ready for Opening Day, it’s highly doubtful that he’d play without having

gone through some sort of Spring Training regiment. That’s part of why teams host what’s called “extended spring training” at their facilities in Florida (or Arizona) once they break camp. It allows young players and perhaps players that didn’t get the full spring training regiment to compete and train at the big league level without actually playing in meaningful games.

So unless he’s able to handle a reasonable workload in spring training, Machado’s probably destined for the extended version…right? One would think, however there’s one holdup: the Birds are a contender. (Incidentally, that’s due in large part to Machado himself.) I suppose what I’m saying is that the Orioles need to be careful not to rush a player as young as Machado and one with his caliber of talent back too early. However unfortunately that’s often what happens in the immediacy of today’s world. And I don’t mean that in a sports sense, but overall. You’re nothing if you can’t perform or produce right here, right now. And incidentally, I’m not a fan of that attitude.

Winning is important for sure, but if there’s a circumstance of some sort (such as an injury), I think it’s perfectly acceptable to take a step back from the urgency of winning now. And please don’t misinterpret that, as in no way am I saying that the Orioles’ primary focus shouldn’t be to win. I just wouldn’t want to see a player rushed back only to have him not be at his best – or worse. Everyone remembers Brian Roberts injuring himself in the first inning of the Orioles’ home opener of 2010. Roberts was out for three months, and by the time he returned the Orioles had fired Dave Trembley, had it with Juan Samuel, and were about to hire Buck Showalter. (Seems like a generation ago, doesn’t it?!) However what most people don’t remember is that Roberts had literally started playing in games the final week of spring training, which at that point was less than two weeks prior.

It’s tough to say that’s why the injury occurred, because we don’t know that for sure. Roberts had been having back spasms for some time by then. However that’s a doomsday scenario in Machado’s case; I think more realistically you have to be more concerned with him being cleared to play medically, only to not have enough time to get up to speed on the field. And go figure, that’s EXACTLY one of the reasons why leagues give teams exhibition games. What the Orioles can’t afford is to have Machado go through a period like Washington’s RGIII did at the beginning of this NFL season. Medically he had been cleared by Dr. James Andrews (who’s also handling Machado’s knee incidentally), however it was evident that he wasn’t ready to play from a football standpoint.

Obviously we can’t know how any of this plays out until we get to spring training next year. However keep in mind that many hitters find themselves looking fairly foolish for the first week or so of spring training. It takes them that long to get timing back and to get their swings in order. Combine that with the fact that Machado is handling the hot corner on defense, and you have a situation where the Orioles need to be sure he’s ready to go when he gets into the lineup. If that means he heads to extended spring training and eventually on a short minor league rehab stint once the season starts, so be it.

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