FREDERICK, Md. -- After several months of rehab from left knee surgery, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado moved into the next phase of his recovery with a flourish on Friday night. Beginning an assignment with Baltimore's Class A Advanced affiliate, the Frederick Keys, Machado smacked two doubles and a triple in four plate appearances and came around to score two runs against Myrtle Beach.
"I'm glad rehab's over with. It's been too long," Machado said a couple of hours before Frederick's 5-3 loss. "But it's part of the process. You can't just walk up the mountain in one day. It takes time, and I'm excited to be out here."
Unfortunately for Machado, the weather threw a wrench in the Orioles' plans for him, which included batting second in the lineup and playing third base for nine innings on Friday at Harry Grove Stadium. With the first pitch delayed about an hour by rain, Machado was switched to designated hitter as a precaution against the wet playing conditions.
Although he couldn't try out his glove, Machado made good use of his bat. Facing Myrtle Beach left-hander Victor Payano, Machado put an inside-out-swing on a 1-2 pitch and lined a double down the right-field line in the first inning. In the third, he lifted a deep fly ball into the right-field corner and motored into third without hesitation when right fielder Nick Williams couldn't make a tough sliding catch. Machado then jumped on a first-pitch fastball in the fifth, rocketing a shot off the center-field wall -- 400 feet away -- for an easy double.
Finally, lefty reliever Alexander Claudio caught Machado looking at a borderline 2-2 offspeed pitch to cap a seven-pitch at-bat in the sixth. Machado exited the game afterward, taking time despite the wet weather to sign autographs for what remained of a packed crowd of 6,403
"I feel good at the plate," said Machado, who was greeted with huge applause before each at-bat. "I feel good overall, running the bases, which is the most important thing.
"First game under the lights, first game in front of a big crowd like this, so it's definitely a big obstacle we've crossed and hopped over. So hopefully we can continue it, and as soon as possible get back out there."
Machado hopes to play nine innings at third base on Saturday and is slated to stay with the Keys through Sunday, then be re-evaluated. He likely would continue his Minor League assignment at Double-A or Triple-A before joining the Orioles, possibly by early May.
The 21-year-old, who underwent surgery in October for a torn medial patellofemoral ligament, said that his impressive performance at the plate wouldn't accelerate his timetable.
"If I would have hit four home runs, I'm not going to go tomorrow and play in the big leagues," Machado said. "It's not how it works. I wish it was that easy. But this is just a process. It's not how many hits I get or how many plays I make. It's more getting a feel for it, playing nine innings, being on your feet for the whole game. There's a lot of things that come into play before just having a good game."
It wasn't so long ago that Machado played for the Keys during his quick ascent through the Orioles' system. He spent his final 63 games of the 2011 season in Frederick, going on to claim Most Valuable Player honors in the Carolina League Championship Series victory over Kinston. By the next August, Machado was in Baltimore, and last year he was named to the American League All-Star team and earned an AL Gold Glove Award.
For the moment, being back in Frederick is a welcome situation for Machado, who had been playing games in extended spring training. On Wednesday, he spent seven innings at third base and went 3-for-4 with three singles.
"You had maybe 10, 15 people out there watching you play, just your teammates," Machado said of the games in Sarasota, Fla. "So it's definitely a little different coming up here, playing under the lights, playing in front of a crowd, playing for a ballclub. It just changes your mentality, changes how you view the game. It's what I need to take it to the next level."
Machado's goal for the weekend is simple: get some reps and leave healthy.
Since the surgery, Machado has felt the strength come back in his leg, and he said -- as he knocked on a wooden table -- that his knee has been "great." He's been able to cut, plant and do everything else he needs to do on the field.
"Thank God we haven't had any issues with it. I feel comfortable," Machado said. "Obviously I'm a little slow still, but that's something that's gonna come if you keep playing. You've just got to trust all the hard work I've put into it, with all the cutting, all the running, all the weights, all the things I've done."