COMMENTARY | The Baltimore Orioles announced Thursday that All-Star third baseman Manny Machado will be cleared to resume baseball activities soon, only four months after suffering a freak knee injury at first base.
The news is the first step in what the Orioles hope is Machado being ready for opening day on March 31.
Even though the news is optimistic, there is a chance that Machado will need a few extra weeks to heal. If that is the case, the Orioles' defensive lineup and batting order could have drastic difference from 2013.
Who plays third?
When Machado went down at the end of 2013, the Orioles only had six games left. To fill the spot, the club used a platoon of Danny Valencia against left-handed pitching and Ryan Flaherty against righties.
With Valencia gone, the Orioles do not really have two players who can provide the perfect platoon. In addition to Flaherty, the Orioles only have Rule 5 draft choice Michael Almanzar as an option at third base.
Flaherty seems to be the obvious choice to start every day at third with an extended Machado absence to start the season. While frustratingly underperforming for a majority of the season, Flaherty did turn it around in the last two weeks of the season, batting .294 with a 1.106 OPS.
Almanzar as an option at third base is interesting in multiple ways. For one, as a Rule 5 selection, he must stay on the active roster for the full season. Thus, it would be useful for the Orioles to see what he can bring to the club early while not taking the bat out of the hands of Machado, Chris Davis or whoever the DH may be.
The Orioles could play Almanzar at third if Machado cannot go simply because they want to get Flaherty entrenched as the everyday second baseman, which he is planned to be.
What does the top of the order look like?
There was no doubting the effectiveness of Machado's bat at the top of the order. With his knack for hitting the double, Machado was nearly a perfect No. 2 hitter, setting the table for the big thumpers in Adam Jones and Davis.
When Machado missed time in 2013, the Orioles alternated J.J. Hardy as well as the struggling Nick Markakis into the No. 2 spot.
But in 2014, the Orioles already find themselves without a clear leadoff hitter after losing both Nate McLouth and Brian Roberts.
Assuming the personnel stays the same, the Orioles will probably go back to batting Markakis in the leadoff spot, hoping that he goes back to his 2012 form. In the second spot, a number of players could fit, including the newly acquired David Lough and the oft-injured Nolan Reimold.
However, batting the shortstop Hardy might make the most sense for the club. While he does not provide the speed you would like out of a No. 2, he does provide some power that would hopefully set the table for Jones and Davis.
In 2011, the Orioles experimented with Hardy batting leadoff. In 64 games, Hardy produced a .295 OBP while also hitting 18 home runs and 17 doubles. He also played 35 games at second with similar results.
While it may not be ideal, an Orioles opening-day batting order without Machado would most likely look a lot like this:
1 - Nick Markakis
2 - J.J. Hardy
3 - Adam Jones
4 - Chris Davis
5 - Matt Wieters
6 - Delmon Young/Nolan Reimold
7 - Ryan Flaherty
8 - David Lough
9 - Jemile Weeks/Jonathan Schoop
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