Currently holding the largest division lead in baseball, the Orioles' first American League East title in 17 years has come within reach in recent weeks. But the club now faces the possibility of being without All-Star third baseman Manny Machado for an extended amount of time.
An MRI performed Tuesday revealed no apparent structural damage, and the club said Machado was diagnosed with a right knee ligament sprain.
In some ways, that was good news -- especially given how Machado's season ended last year with a left knee injury that required offseason surgery -- but it appears that this injury could force Machado to the 15-day disabled list.
"That's under consideration," Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Tuesday. "It may take some time for him to heal. Obviously, we'll know more tomorrow, but I'd say that's a consideration right now."
Machado's injury is compounded by the fact that shortstop J.J. Hardy hasn't played since Saturday because of a left thumb sprain, putting the status of both members of the team's American League Gold Glove left side of the infield in limbo.
With that, it could be viewed as a blessing that the Orioles' game against the New York Yankees on Tuesday at Camden Yards was postponed because of rain. Not only does it give both players an extra day to heal, but it also gave the Orioles' decision-makers another day to figure out a way to shuffle the club's roster.
An MRI performed on Hardy's thumb Tuesday revealed only a sprain. He's not expected to play in Wednesday's series finale against the Yankees, and then he'll be re-evaluated following Thursday's day off.
"We can give that a little bit of time," Duquette said of Hardy's thumb, which was injured Saturday on a slide at home plate. "We have the off day Thursday, and we have 1/8Wednesday3/8. 1/8After that3/8, we'll have a better idea of whether J.J.'s available."
Earlier Tuesday, before Machado's diagnosis was announced, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he was he was still preparing to have both players available for the team's upcoming nine-game road trip. The club plays three games against the Cleveland Indians beginning Friday before heading to Chicago to play the White Sox and the Cubs each in a three-game series.
"Not going to handicap it," Showalter said. "I don't know yet. Just because someone goes on the DL doesn't mean he's not going to play again this year. Or he is going to have surgery or this and that. Sometimes that does clean it up. Right now we've got rooms for both of them in Chicago and Cleveland."
Machado was injured in the third inning of the Orioles' 11-3 win over the New York Yankees on Monday. He fell to the ground at home plate after hitting a groundout before writhing in pain while holding his right knee.
"He was optimistic last night, I wouldn't let him be anything else," Showalter said. "Unfortunately, he's had a little experience with it, so he knows the difference. He's joking around. He is speaking very positively, but until you get the doctors weigh in, you let the experts do their thing first. I've learned through the years. I know how I feel in my gut right now, but I'm as concerned, I want to see what they say."
If Machado is placed on the DL, the Orioles likely would need to call up an extra infielder -- especially with Hardy doubtful -- from Triple-A Norfolk. Tides infielders Steve Lombardozzi, Jimmy Paredes, Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Cord Phelps are options. All but Phelps were in Norfolk's starting lineup Tuesday night.
When Machado left Monday's game, first baseman Chris Davis moved over to third base -- Ryan Flaherty was already at shortstop filling in for Hardy -- and hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the Orioles' victory.
Asked whether the club would consider going outside the organization to acquire help at third base in case Machado missed an extended amount of time, Duquette expressed optimism that Machado could be back sooner than later.
"We need to find out a little bit more about the injury and when Manny could be available to play ball," Duquette said. "That sounds like it might be a little bit of time, but it may not be a lot of time."
Both the Orioles and the Yankees decided to reschedule Tuesday's game for Sept. 12, when the teams will play a split-admission doubleheader. Playing the game in September allows the Orioles to avoid playing with Machado and Hardy unavailable, and they will have the benefit of expanded rosters next month.
"We know we're gonna have the 40-man roster expansion," Showalter said. "It's not a given that they are going to be with you in September yet. So be careful about outsmarting yourself. I'm going to try not to."
But in building a six-game lead in the AL East entering Tuesday, the Orioles have overcome their share of injuries.
Catcher Matt Wieters, who was off to the best start of his career offensively, played in 26 games before an elbow injury sidelined him and eventually led to season-ending Tommy John ligament reconstruction surgery.
Hardy missed eight games in the season's first 3 1/2 weeks because of back and hamstring ailments, but he then played in 96 straight games before missing the past two. And Machado missed the season's first month while recovering from offseason surgery to his left knee.
"That a convenient excuse," Showalter said of his team overcoming injuries. "If you really want to get something done, you'll find a way to do it. If that's not that important to you, you'll make an excuse out of it."
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