'A disappointing year': Machado headed toward elbow surgery

September 19th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- appears headed for offseason elbow surgery -- or perhaps even in-season elbow surgery, depending on the Padres' fate down the stretch.

The star third baseman said Monday that he is "going in the direction of having surgery pretty soon," adding that he's hopeful to be fully available for the start of the 2024 season.

Machado has dealt with lateral epicondylitis -- more commonly known as tennis elbow -- in his right elbow for parts of the past two seasons. But that injury worsened recently, and Machado has been serving as designated hitter for the past month. Even with that change, he hasn't been able to play every day, with the injury barking worse some days than others.

"We were trying to avoid it as much as we can," Machado said of the surgery. "But unfortunately [the injury] has just put us in that situation, and you know what, it's probably going to make me better, going to make us all better. Just get it done, get ready for next year, come back and be healthy."

Machado forecasted a six-month recovery timetable. The Padres are slated to begin the 2024 season in Seoul, South Korea on March 20 -- meaning Wednesday is officially six months from Opening Day.

Presently, San Diego sits six games back of the final NL Wild Card spot with 12 games to play. The chances are miniscule that the Padres would reach the postseason (FanGraphs currently pegs their playoff odds at 0.1%). So why wouldn't Machado undergo surgery now and turn his attention to the 2024 season?

"Because he wants to be out there for his team right now," manager Bob Melvin said. "We'll see where it goes in the next few days. But as long as there's a slight chance and we're not eliminated, he wants to play as much as he can for his team. That's probably an ongoing conversation depending on how the team does here."

To that extent, Machado has been assured that the injury cannot be worsened by continuing to play. So he is determined to play until the Padres are formally eliminated from contention. Their elimination number is currently seven.

"I'm going to continue to play until we're out," Machado said. "We finally got four [wins] in a row. That's a good thing, and we've got 12 left. If we win out -- which we're capable of doing -- we'll see what we do. But yeah, until we're out, continue doing it."

Regarding the six-month recovery timetable that Machado mentioned, team sources indicated that timetable wouldn't be final until the procedure takes place. The extent of the damage and recovery time won't be evident until after the operation.

"When you get in there you get a little better idea of how bad it is," Melvin said. "So I think the timeline could be shorter. I think [six months] could be on the long end of the timeline from what I'm hearing, but I'm not a doctor."

In any case, Machado could begin swinging well before those six months are up. If the rehab lingers into Spring Training next year, Machado could begin swinging before he begins throwing, which opens the possibility that he could begin the 2024 season as the DH while working toward a return to throwing and playing third base.

Machado has struggled this season as he's dealt with injury, posting a .251/.315/.456 slash line entering play Monday. Each of those numbers represents a personal low for Machado during his five seasons in San Diego.

"It's taking a hit on my performance, and whenever you can't perform at the highest level, it's tough when you put your team in a bad situation," Machado said.

Until recently, Machado has mostly deflected when asked whether his injuries were impacting his performance. Machado also took culpability for the team's plight in the standings, noting, "It's a disappointing year, and I take all blame for not performing to the best of my abilities."

Nonetheless, Machado seems determined to avoid a season-ending operation until the Padres' season is over -- or at least until their chance at reaching the postseason has dwindled to nothing.

"Surgery is one of the routes that I've probably got to go with," Machado said. "I hate letting my team down late. I don't like putting myself in this situation. I hate the [IL]. I hate everything. So this is a tough one. But ultimately it's: ‘What's best for me and what's best for the team and what's best moving forward?’"