Since Manny Machado went down with a knee injury last September against the Rays, the Orioles have been eagerly anticipating his return to the field. On Saturday, they were able to see him return to third base for the first time. Though it was only at Single A Frederick, it must have felt good for everyone in the entire organization to know that he was back on the field playing again. Frederick drew the organization's finest, with a rumor in the press box that Brady Anderson was in the house.
Machado began his second game for the Keys batting second and playing his customary third base position. After a quiet top half of the first where nothing was hit to him, he drew a large cheer from the crowd as he came to the plate in the bottom of the inning. Even though he didn't get a hit in this at bat, I thought it was his best at bat of the day. He worked the count full and fouled off a few tough pitches before lining out sharply to center. The ball happened to be hit right at the center fielder but the ball was struck squarely. This was the hardest he would hit the ball all afternoon.
Before his second at bat, he was tested with his first couple of balls in the field. He fielded a routine grounder cleanly and ended the top of the second inning retreating down the third base line to catch a pop up. Neither play was difficult but it was good to see him tested in the field, even on routine plays.
He didn't see a play in the field over the next couple of innings before coming up to bat again in the bottom of the fourth. Facing a lefty who appeared to be throwing 88-90 (I never trust minor league stadium scoreboards) he again had a nice at bat. He ended up getting somewhat jammed by an inside fastball that he was able to fight off into center field for a base hit. The first ball was hit much harder than this one but this is the one that dropped in for a hit because - baseball. The next batter Creede Simpson grounded to second, which forced Manny to slide going into second base. Thankfully, everything went smoothly.
In the fifth inning, Manny made a really nice play on a bad hop ground ball to his glove side but seemed to take it easy on the throw which pulled first baseman Creede Simpson off the bag. He was charged with an error as the runner was safe at first. He got a chance to redeem himself a minute later as Alex Monsalve hit a high chopper to third that Machado fielded cleanly and threw to Jerome Pena covering second base.
Machado made his best play of the day in the sixth inning. He snared a line drive with a dive to his left robbing the Mudcats second baseman of a base hit. The last out of the inning also went to Manny who fielded cleanly and threw to first. It appeared that he was holding something back on his throws today. Whether he was doing it because it was his first game in the field or because he knew he would have more time to get the runner in a minor league game I don't know. But he wasn't airing it out today.
In his third at bat, he grounded out softly to first base. Nothing much to see here. Each time he came to the plate he was greeted by the largest crowd of the season so far in Frederick: 6,911.
He would field one more ground ball on the day coming off the bat of Carolina Mudcats second baseman, Todd Hankins. The ground ball was of the slow variety and Machado managed to get the runner by a half step. Again, he didn't put everything into the throw and Hankins almost beat it out. Or maybe he's just that good and he knows exactly the strength he needs to put into each throw to get the runner by the slimmest of margins.
His last at bat came in the eight inning. He grounded a ball over the pitcher's mound and was thrown out at first by the short stop. I hate to harp on it like this since it's a rehab assignment, but he didn't run full speed to first here. Granted this was a single A game coming on a rehab assignment where the result doesn't matter but it would have been nice to see him run full speed. We'll just have to chalk it up to being the beginning of a rehab assignment when he hasn't played in a game for seven months.
I'm sure by the time he's ready to rejoin the Orioles, he'll be running out ground balls at full speed and we'll forget all about this. The ground ball ended Machado's day at 1 for 4 at the plate with his lone hit being a single. Overall, it was a positive step on his comeback trail to Baltimore. He was able to get through nine innings in the field unscathed. He admitted after the game that the mental aspect might be the most difficult part of his rehab.
"That's the hard part about it," he said. "It's not about my health being 100 percent, it's about not thinking about it and having that in the back of your mind, which is not a good thing to have. I think that's the part now I need to control and try to overcome that."
He's going to have to get over the mental part of the injury and get back to airing out throws and running full speed. Knowing Manny, I bet he gets over it quickly. We should see him in Baltimore sooner rather than later, perhaps even by next weekend.