Orioles manager Buck Showalter had a plan for third baseman Manny Machado. He formulated it over the winter, kept it quiet and sprung it on the media - and the world - toward the end of spring training.
Showalter elevated Machado to second in the order in a late exhibition game. Since the rest of the lineup seemed to be designed for opening day in St. Petersburg, it was safe to assume that Machado would be the No. 2 hitter for the Orioles.
Showalter downplayed it, of course, saying that Machado’s placement might last for a game or two. It didn’t come with any guarantees. But he knew better, and the rest of us would catch on quickly.
Machado has played every inning since the Orioles called him up from Double-A Bowie, and he’s hit second in every game this season. You may have noticed that the results are favorable. The experiment thus far has been a rousing success.
So, what does Showalter look for in a No. 2 hitter?
“Manny,” he said with a smile during the last homestand.
“So much of that has changed conventionally over the years. How many what we called true leadoff hitters are there? How many conventional DHs are there now? Not many.
“In the offseason, I was hoping it would make our lineup work well, that Manny could fit into that spot. Because it’s not a spot that puts too much pressure on him for power or whatever. And his game, from the little I saw of him last year, I thought fit that spot. I held off as long as I could in the spring. He’s handling it as well as you’d want to see a two-hole hitter, regardless of his age.”
Slotting Nick Markakis in the leadoff spot against left-handers also has worked like a charm.
“The computer tells you to take your best hitters and hit them first and then go second,” Showalter said. “The whole idea is to get them to the plate as many times as possible. I think in the American League, and I can only speak for the East, the eight- and nine-hole hitters are so different. The nine-hole is an important spot in the American League. That’s why when we were starting the year with Brian (Roberts) hitting there, it was really a good fit for us.
“That two-hole hitter, you’ll see how when Joe (Girardi) does hit (Robinson) Cano there, you’ll see a little different nine-hole hitter. Sometimes (Brett) Gardiner. It seems like Cano hits every inning hitting second. It feels that way.
“If you went down and made your perfect lineup out of people in the American League and said, ‘Who’s your prototypical leadoff hitter, your two, your three, your four,” it’s hard to do nowadays.”
The easy part for Showalter is keeping Machado in the second spot. No need to remove the kid who leads the majors in hits, doubles and multi-hit games.