Baltimore • 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.”