BALTIMORE — Even as Manny Machado officially went to the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, the Orioles could breathe a sigh of relief as it relates to the 22-year-old’s future and their World Series chances in 2014.
A season-ending injury to the slick-fielding third baseman wouldn’t have ended the Orioles’ hopes for the postseason — especially with a 6 1/2 game lead entering Wednesday night — or a deep run in October, but it would have been an enormous obstacle to overcome given Machado’s elite defensive ability and improved offense over the last two months. Baltimore apparently won’t have to worry about that possibility after Machado underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam and was diagnosed with a minor right knee ligament sprain despite a scary scene on Monday night that conjured memories of last September’s left knee injury at Tropicana Field that eventually required offseason surgery.
Manager Buck Showalter expressed optimism that Machado could be ready to return when eligible on Aug. 27, but even if that goal sounds ambitious, the Orioles expect to have the talented infielder back in time for the final push for their second postseason appearance in the last three years.
“Talking to all of the doctors including Dr. [Neal] ElAttrache who did the [left knee surgery], we’ve got a pretty good feel we have our arms around where we are with it,” Showalter said. “Hopefully, it will manage itself during that [15-day] period, and he’ll be back there or close to it. It’s not if now, it’s when, we think.”
Since returning from his infamous five-game suspension on July 5, Machado is hitting .351 with five homers and 15 RBIs while posting a .929 on-base plus slugging percentage in 122 plate appearances. And, of course, the 2013 Gold Glove winner has produced a slew of highlight defensive plays to help one of the best defensive clubs in baseball.
The Orioles initially went with Chris Davis at third base in the series finale against the New York Yankees on Wednesday, but the anticipated weekend return of shortstop J.J. Hardy from a sprained left thumb will likely lead to Ryan Flaherty shifting to third base. Norfolk infielder Cord Phelps was promoted to Baltimore to take Machado’s place and will be another option at third base in the meantime.
Asked about his manager’s hope that he might be able to return in two weeks, Machado initially reacted with surprise before taking a more conservative stance of wanting to be 100 percent when he returns to help the Orioles try to win their first American League East title since 1997.
“Whenever I feel good. Whenever I’m able to go out there and be Manny Machado,” the 2013 All-Star selection said. “I don’t know when that’s going to be. It could be tomorrow, it could be in a month, it could be three weeks. It’s something that is a feel thing. Like [the doctor] said yesterday, it’s more of how you feel once you get out there and once I do what I need to do.”
Long-term concerns will persist about Machado’s health as he’s now experienced substantial injuries to both knees despite being only 22, but the Orioles and Machado began feeling optimistic quickly Monday night when he was able to walk in the clubhouse without the aid of crutches and the initial shock and pain subsided.
Only time will tell whether Machado returns as quickly as the Orioles anticipate and produces at the same high level with October rapidly approaching, but Wednesday’s outcome was worlds better than the sickening feeling all involved parties experienced when he collapsed in the batter’s box in the third inning on Monday night.
“Obviously, it’s a great relief,” Machado said. “It’s one of those things that when it happens, things cross your mind and you assume, already, the worst. You really can’t assume anything until you actually see the results and it’s front of your face and you have a doctor next to you and helping you make the decision.
“I’m just glad it’s not as bad as we thought and not as bad as it is. So, get it stronger, get back, and keep running forward.”