BALTIMORE — The original Orioles lineup written out by Buck Showalter did not have Manny Machado at shortstop in the series opener against the New York Yankees on Tuesday night.
An afternoon conversation with the two-time Gold Glove third baseman, however, prompted the Baltimore manager to change his mind, shifting Machado to his natural shortstop position and moving recalled utility infielder Ryan Flaherty from short to third base. Showalter said earlier this season when Hardy was dealing with a calf issue that he slightly preferred the defensive alignment of Flaherty at third base with Machado at shortstop, but the Orioles will keep all options open with their three-time Gold Glove shortstop now expected to miss at least a month with a hairline fracture in his left foot.
Slick-fielding veteran shortstop Paul Janish remains a strong possibility to be promoted from Triple-A Norfolk in the near future, and Showalter reminded reporters that Pedro Alvarez has also started more than 500 games at the hot corner in his major league career. Of course, Alvarez at third base wouldn’t represent the optimal defensive alignment for a club that puts much emphasis in defense.
“There’s some other things that we could do,” said Showalter about his decision to move Machado to shortstop on Tuesday. “I’d keep in mind, too, that Pedro’s played a lot of third base. He’s actually played more third base than Manny has in the big leagues. There are some options there. I’d like to keep them all open; I’d also like to keep from moving guys around a lot.
“This is the way we’re going to go tonight.”
Drafted as a shortstop out of high school and having played all but two career minor-league games there before he was promoted to the majors in 2012, Machado was only making his ninth career major league start at short on Tuesday night. The Orioles know the 23-year-old can play elite defense at third base, but it remains to be seen just how good his defense would be at shortstop over the long haul.
The best defensive left side of the infield in Hardy’s absence would likely be Janish at shortstop with Machado staying at third, but the former has hit just .216 and posted a .574 on-base plus slugging percentage in parts of seven major league seasons, making him less than ideal for an everyday role. The Orioles would rather not weaken their defense at two positions, but Flaherty is a better third baseman than shortstop, which has facilitated the opportunity for Machado to play his natural position on occasion.
Perhaps the time is now to see how Machado’s incredible skill at third base translates to shortstop over an extended time as Showalter even noted that he’s seen better preparation than ever from the young superstar who was named American League Player of the Month for April.
“It’s just been so much more focused every day,” Showalter said. “You can tell by the look in his eye that he has a real passion for what he’s trying to accomplish for our team.”
Britton encouraged by ankle improvement
Closer Zach Briton was happy that a magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed no structural damage to the left ankle he jammed on Saturday, and he hopes to return at some point during the Yankees series.
The lefty reliever played catch on Tuesday afternoon to better gauge how close he was to being 100 percent from a pitching standpoint. Britton told reporters that all pain is virtually gone when he walks after he was on crutches just a couple days earlier.
“I feel a lot better. The flexibility and range of motion is back,” Britton said. “It’s just swollen. It’s got some bruising, but as long as I can manage the pain. That’s going to be the biggest issue right now. Does it hurt me doing baseball things — covering first, having to field the bunt, or what not? Those are things that I’m going to have to test out.”
It remains unclear when starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo (right shoulder tendinitis) will resume throwing, but Showalter is hoping they’ll see a better pitcher than the one who posted a 7.00 ERA in 18 innings last month.
“I’m very optimistic about the return we’re going to get on some of the things that he’s doing,” Showalter said. “Hopefully, he’s moving towards throwing here before too long.”
The 30-year-old was sent to the 15-day disabled list with an arm-related ailment for the first time in his career on April 23.
Harvey sidelined again
Showalter confirmed that top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey underwent sports hernia surgery on Tuesday, the latest challenge in a career that’s been derailed by various injuries since July 2014.
However, the Orioles aren’t as concerned with the current ailment since it has nothing to do with the elbow issues he experienced in each of the previous two seasons.
“If he pitches from June, July on and finishes up strong like we think he can, I think he’s OK,” Showalter said. “But we’d really like to see him get the ball every fifth day at some point there and kind of get some of that experience he needs to finish off some things [with his development].”