Orioles’ Machado shows maturity on and off field

In his first full season in the majors, Manny Machado has proven
to be quite adept on the field and very comfortable being the
youngest player in the Baltimore Orioles clubhouse.

The 20-year-old Machado is batting .309 with five homers and 21
RBIs, along with three steals in three attempts. At third base,
he’s scooping up slow-rolling dribblers with his bare hand and
throwing quickly and accurately to first base despite having less
than a year of experience at the position.

”He fits right into the makeup of this team,” Orioles center
fielder Adam Jones said. ”When he picks up that bat, he’s ready to
hit. When he puts his glove on, he’s ready to field. He plays the
game hard. You can see his poise.”

Machado, the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, made his big
league debut last year after being recalled from Double-A Bowie in
August. Originally a shortstop, he solidified Baltimore’s infield
with sound play at the hot corner and batted .262 to help the
Orioles reach the postseason for the first time since 1997.

During the offseason, Machado worked hard to make sure this year
would be even better. His regimen included honing his ping pong
skills, which goes a long way toward explaining his innate
attention to detail.

”I knew that everybody here in this clubhouse likes to play
ping pong, so I came prepared for spring training,” Machado said.
”You’ve got to work on everything that’s going to come your way
during the year, whether it’s ping pong or baseball, because up
here you see a lot of crazy things. You’ve got to be ready for
everything.”

Machado and teammate Steve Pearce, who’s 10 years his senior,
have waged many a battle at the ping pong table before games at
Camden Yards.

”He’s very competitive. You’ve got to be competitive to play
major league baseball,” Pearce said. ”He’s only 20, but whether
he’s playing ping pong or on the baseball field, he digs in. He’s
had some huge hits for the team and he’s playing lights out at
third base.”

Machado made only five errors in 51 games last season, and this
season his fielding percentage is up to .980 from .967. Working
alongside Gold Glove shortstop J.J. Hardy, the duo has created a
virtual seal on the left side of the infield.

”I said last year that I was impressed with the fact that he’s
so young, the fact that he’s so aware of everything that’s going on
around him and the fact that he made that transition to third base
as easily as he has,” Hardy said.

Machado also made an easy adjustment to batting second in the
lineup, which usually requires him to move up the leadoff hitter or
get on base ahead of sluggers Nick Markakis, Jones and Chris
Davis.

Machado has a .352 on-base percentage and ranks third on the
team with 23 runs. And when the team needs a long ball, he often
delivers – his two-run drive Sunday put the Orioles ahead to stay
in an 8-4 win over the Angels that sealed an uplifting 7-4 swing
through Oakland, Seattle and Los Angeles.

”The situation dictates what you need to do,” Machado
said.

”What we’re going to see from him is still to be seen,” Hardy
said. ”I think really the sky’s the limit. He could be a 3-hole
guy later in his career. He’s going to get a lot of at-bats hitting
in the 2-hole this year, and I think it will be good for him and
good for the team.”

Machado has started all 32 games this year and has been a key
contributor to Baltimore’s 19-13 start. He has at least one hit in
13 of his last 14 games and has been held hitless only seven times
– never in consecutive games.

”You try to simplify this game. You can’t be thinking too much,
beating yourself up if you go 0 for 4,” he said. ”There are 162
games. Some days you’re going to have it, some days not. That’s how
I see it. If you give 100 percent and try to help your team win,
everything is going to fall into place.”

His maturity belies his age, but Machado’s teammates won’t let
him forget that he won’t be 21 until July 6.

”When we drink on the team plane, he can’t have alcohol,”
Jones said. ”We make sure of that.”

Even after he reaches the legal drinking age, Machado will still
be the youngest player in the clubhouse.

”They call me `The Baby,”’ he said. ”I’m still a kid to
them.”