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.”