Just a few days after revealing starting pitcher Chris Tillman won’t be ready for Opening Day, the Orioles are dealing with another injury concern at the start of spring training.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy told reporters in Sarasota that he’s been experiencing lower back spasms that will keep him out of baseball-related activities for the remainder of the month. Hardy has managed back spasms at different points during his tenure with Baltimore — including most of the 2014 season — but he has been dealing with this latest bout since late January.
Hardy has undergone a magnetic imaging exam and other testing to make sure there isn’t a structural problem with his back, but manager Buck Showalter told reporters that he had already planned to take it slow with the 34-year-old to begin the spring. The three-time Gold Glove winner is in the final season of a three-year, $40 million contract and has dealt with a variety of ailments in recent seasons. He bounced back nicely from a brutal 2015 campaign last year when he batted .269 with nine home runs, 29 doubles, and a .716 on-base plus slugging percentage despite missing more than six weeks with a fracture in his foot.
Hardy’s absence opens the door for All-Star third baseman Manny Machado to take more reps at shortstop. The 24-year-old infielder is expected to play that position for the Dominican Republic in next month’s World Baseball Classic.
Should Hardy’s back problems linger longer than expected, Showalter would be looking at the likes of utility man Ryan Flaherty and non-roster invitees Robert Andino and Johnny Giavotella to potentially fill in at shortstop or third base — depending on where Showalter would use Machado.
Hardy does have a $14 million option for the 2018 season that reportedly vests if he collects 600 plate appearances, but the Orioles can buy it out for $2 million if he doesn’t reach that threshold. Since having 644 plate appearances over 159 games in 2013, Hardy has recorded no more than 569 in any of the last three seasons.