Manager Buck Showalter updated Orioles beat reporters on Friday on the progress of injured third baseman Manny Machado, and he appears to well on his way to recovery. Machado had a “functional day” on Thursday in which he ran, fielded, and hit. Reports were that Machado got through it fine, and more importantly, he felt fine the next day and didn’t experience abnormal pain or soreness after the workout.
As of now, there’s no official timetable for Machado’s return. There’s no need to rush back a player who plays as big a role as Machado does in the future of the franchise. And you get the sense that if there’s some kind of expectation placed on Machado, he’s the type of player that will strive to meet it, which could be to his detriment.
However, in the meantime, the Orioles spring training middle infield competition has been extended into the regular season as three infielders strive to prove they deserve a spot in the Orioles’ lineup when Machado resumes his role as third baseman. When that happens, there are three infielders could all see playing time at second base or a utility role in rookie Jonathan Schoop, recent trade acquisition Steve Lombardozzi, and Ryan Flaherty. One of these players will likely get sent down to make room on the roster for Machado.
Through the first week of the season, Lombardozzi has hit for a strong .364 average. Schoop has not been spectacular at the plate, but has more upside than other candidates and has shown the ability to play third as well as second. Meanwhile, Flaherty, who was penciled in as the starting second baseman in 2013, is playing his way into either a utility role or a demotion to AAA.
Despite a strong spring, Flaherty has gone hitless in his first four games of 2014 and recorded a team-leading seven strikeouts. For the first two months of last year, Flaherty didn’t hit above .200 and lost playing time later in the season as a result. He rebounded in the second half last year in a small sample size of only 66 at-bats, hitting 4 homers, and getting on-base at a .333 clip — which is something that this team really struggles with. Coming in to this season, the Orioles were certainly hoping that Flaherty would continue the success of his second half.
It will be interesting to see how Flaherty plays today and in the upcoming series with the Yankees, and if he continues to struggle, how that will affect his position when Machado returns. With two other potential second baseman/utility infielders performing better than Flaherty, he needs to get hot in a hurry to remain in contention for a spot at second, and possibly on the Orioles’ 25-man roster.
Note: I will be appearing on the Fansided Network’s Yanks Go Yard podcast tonight at 6:30 p.m. to preview the Orioles’ upcoming series against the New York Yankees. To tune in, please find the link here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/