The buzz swirling around Camden Yards prior to game time Thursday night had nothing to do with the Orioles’ current five-game winning streak, or their standings in the AL East or wildcard races. Matt Wieters’ five RBI performance Wednesday night was barely remembered. And poor Steve Johnson, who shut down Seattle in his debut as a starter Wednesday, he was so “yesterday” that he wasn’t even in Baltimore today.
Camden Yards was buzzing Thursday because of the surprise arrival of Manny Machado. The 20 year old, selected #1 by the Orioles (3 overall) in the 2010 draft, was the latest addition to the ever-changing Orioles’ roster. Before word got out after Wednesday’s game, no one expected this move. How could anyone possibly expect it? Then, word quickly filtered that Machado was going to be playing third base. Of course he was. The Orioles, in the hunt for a playoff berth for the first time since Bill Clinton was president, weren’t going to sit their slick fielding shortstop, no matter how much JJ Hardy has struggled offensively.
Third base, primarily held down by Wilson Betemit this summer, has been a defensive black hole in Baltimore. With about 50 games left in the season, it’s about time that wasn’t the case. Of course, there’s always the small detail that the 20 year old Machado has only played third base TWICE in his short professional career. The big leagues is not where players are taught new positions. It’s where players come once they’ve mastered their position in the minors. And yet, here was young Manny Machado, courtesy of the Mad Geniuses named Showalter and Duquette…number 13…playing third…batting ninth.
Wei-Yin Chen (L, 10-7), who has become the ace of the staff in the absence of Jason Hammel, was on the mound for the Orioles. The lefty had pitched two straight scoreless starts, striking out 16 and surrendering just 8 hits over his last 12.2 inning coming in. But this was not the same Wei-Yin Chen Thursday. Chen gave up 9 hits, 6 for extra bases. He served up two home runs—the first to Royals leadoff man Alex Gordon on the game’s second pitch, and the second, 3 batters later to KC’s cleanup hitter Billy Butler. Kansas City touched up Chen for 7 runs in 4.2 innings. If Chen has ever been worse than he was Thursday, he was pitching halfway around the world at the time.
On the other side of the coin, the last time a guy named Will Smith looked this good, he was battling things from outside this world all together. Yes, Will Smith, he of the 2-4 record and 6 ERA coming in, was assigned the task of shutting down an Orioles offense that had scored 17 runs in the past two games. And, so he did. Handed a 4-0 lead in the first, the lefty cruised, giving up just 2 runs on 6 hits through 7 innings. Kansas City had given Smith (w, 3-4) a 7-0 lead by the time the Orioles crossed the plate for the first time, in the fifth.
The inning started with Manny Machado. On an 0-2 curve away, Machado went with the pitch and split the gap in right center. The ball rolled all the way to the fence, and Machado rolled all the way to third base. Machado’s first big league hit…a leadoff triple. Next, Nick Markakis ripped a fastball away on a line into left. Gordon made fine sliding catch, and Machado tagged up to score.
Matt Wieters added a solo home run (16) in the eighth—his third in three games—and Machado would add an infield hit to go along with his triple, but the O’s were soundly beaten, 8-2 to end their five-game winning streak.
The O’s will send Miguel Gonzalez (3-2, 3.80) to the hill against the Royals’ Luke Hochevar (7-9, 5.04). 7:05 is game time.
- Machado looked very comfortable at third, handling a couple of routine plays there. He carried over his hot hitting at Bowie into his big league debut as well, going 2-4 with a run and a triple. His burst of speed from second to third on the three bagger was impressive.
- While Betemit’s playing time appears to be most in jeopardy due to Machado’s arrival, he’s not the only one who should be looking over his shoulder. Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, Robert Andino, Omar Quintanilla, and even Lew Ford and Nate McClouth could be affected by this move. The one thing we are pretty sure of…Machado isn’t up here to sit. He’ll play as long as he’s up. The only guys who likely don’t have to feel a bit pushed by Machado’s arrival are Wieters (and Teagarden), Markakis, Jones, and, ironically, the man Machado will likely displace in a year or two, JJ Hardy.
- This was easily Chen’s worst outing in the majors. Kansas City can hit, and they did.
- Markakis, Hardy, Davis, Reynolds, and Andino, all hitless.