With all the buzz around Manny Machado recently focusing on his immature escapades against the Oakland A’s that lead up to a five game suspension, it’s refreshing to see him simply put his head back on his shoulders. On Monday he did just that and then some, collecting five hits in an extra inning showdown versus the Washington Nationals, sealing victory for the Orioles in game one of the Beltway Series. He had his hands full, as opposing starter Stephen Strasburg tends to create quite a challenge for opposing teams, striking out 27.8% and allowing just a 2.58 xFIP. Yet every lock has a key, and Machado picked through Strasburg and the rest of the Nats’ bullpen with surgeon-esque precision.
1st Inning/1 Out/Bases Empty/1-0 Count
After missing up with a first pitch fastball, Strasburg tries to catch Manny off-guard with a changeup on the inner half. But he’s ready for the pitch and clears his hips to drive it down the left field foul line. I’ve written before that Strasburg’s change piece is a work of art, and this was another good pitch here. Even though he hits his spot, it’s set up in a spot where Machado can still turn on it, and he makes Strasburg pay by getting two bases off it.
4th Inning/No Outs/Bases Empty/3-1 Count
Strasburg began this at-bat the same as the last, attacking Machado up with the heater. But this time he let himself fall behind in the count, forcing him to come right after the batter. Wilson Ramos sets up outside but Strasburg misses his spot and ends up back inside where Machado hurt him last time. Instead, here’s a 95 mph pitch that can only be fought off, and fortunately enough falls in no man’s land for his second base knock of the day.
Strasburg’s control has allowed him to only throw 46 pitches in 3-0 and 3-1 counts, but 65.2% of them have been four seam fastballs. He’s no different here, and he may want a new game plan when he falls behind in the count next time. Even though Machado is late, he’s looking fastball and gets it. It’s a good enough swing to be able to just muster the muscle to push it to the outfield.
6th Inning/1 Out/Bases Empty/2-2 Count
The last battle between Strasburg and Machado ended up being the best, ending with the count even on a good pitch. Neither player was ahead in the count by more than one pitch in the at-bat, although Ramos helped buy an extra strike to lead it off about 4 inches above the zone. Here, sick of his other two pitches getting hit by Manny, Strasburg spins him his second curveball of the day, and at-bat. Ramos sets up towards the bottom of the zone, hoping to get a whiff on the pitch. Strasburg pulls off the ball too early though, and he leaves it up where Machado bangs a grounder into the 5.5 hole.
You can see the amazing mid-pitch adjustment made, as Machado was geared up for fastball and begins to shift his momentum, but then has to rely just on his torso as he realizes what pitch really is coming at him. He executed this adaptive swing well, and that gave himself a perfect 3-3 line against one of the game’s premier pitchers.
10th Inning/2 Outs/Man On 1st/2-2 Count
Manny finally gets a chance to hit with a man on board, thanks to a Nick Markakis single the batter prior. Drew Storen gets ahead with a first pitch fastball down Broadway, then promptly spiked the next pitch to even the count. A slider outside then a foul tip on another pitch down the chute, and the count is knotted at 2-2. Storen goes to his putaway pitch, his changeup low and away, and gets a silly swing out of Machado. But Manny channels the ghosts of Camden’s past (they travel for the Beltway Series), this time in the form of Vladimir Guerrero‘s shoestring hit. Look at where this pitch is located, the light blue square at the bottom:
Yeah, that’s pretty low. At least six inches below his knees. It’s remarkable he got fooled so badly, yet still remained focused enough to put a good swing on the pitch. His perseverance rewarded him with his fourth hit of the day, and third single. And the big reward was about to come.
11th Inning/2 Outs/1 Man On/1-2 Count
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. This is the third hit Machado got off a two strike pitch, and it was a big one. Manager Matt Williams brought in Aaron Barrett specifically with Machado in mind, and the plan worked through the first four pitches. He got Manny to whiff on a nasty slider and expand the zone to foul off a fastball, and found himself a strike away from giving the Nats a chance for a walk-off.
Now the catcher calls the slider and sets up low, ready to put away Machado for good. But of course, Barrett can’t get a good release point on the pitch and hangs it, right down the middle on a silver platter.
Part of what makes this performance so exciting is that it’s a comeback of sorts, as much as you can expect from a kid who turned 22 two days ago. He’s had a long road to recovery from his injury, and even with that healed Machado has been dealing with adversity at every turn. His maturity issues and slow start to the season brought up some talk about a possible demotion, but last night he showed why he belongs in the Show. He knows how to make the proper adjustments at the highest level, how to attack early and how to defend when behind, and he’s still improving. Manny Machado didn’t just flash what kind of hitter he is last night, he put on an all out showcase. What a game last night, and what a bright future for Manny.