Machado has 'barrel' of fun in spring debut

February 24th, 2020

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- All spring, has reiterated that his offseason felt a little bit different this year. Last winter, Machado worried about business. This winter, he worried about baseball.

He needed only one swing to show it.

In his first Cactus League at-bat, Machado turned around a 2-0 fastball from Royals starter Brad Keller, sending it onto the Bermuda grass beyond left-center field at Surprise Stadium. The third baseman smacked two more deep flies that were chased down near the warning track, and he finished 1-for-3 in the Padres' 8-5 loss on Monday afternoon.

"I've been working on some things this offseason, and I’m just trying to barrel up some more balls," Machado said. "It was nice to get one out of the way."

Machado wouldn't get much more specific about his offseason adjustments. He's simply working to square up the baseball more frequently, he said.

That certainly seems like a useful goal for Machado. According to Statcast's "barrels" metric, his 8 percent barrel rate was his lowest in four years and well below his marks from 2017 and ’18.

"Obviously, by doing that, I think a lot of the other things will come, the numbers will be there," Machado said. "If I can barrel up some balls, I can do some damage."

Machado still recorded decent numbers in 2019. He batted .256/.334/.462 while slugging 32 homers and posting 3.1 wins above replacement. But it certainly wasn't a season befitting the record-setting 10-year, $300 million contract that Machado signed at this time last year. Plus, his late-August swoon coincided with the Padres' crash from Wild Card contenders to last place in the National League West.

Machado has been vocal in saying that he doesn't feel he needs to prove anything in 2020. He made headlines earlier this spring when he said: "I don't need to show anybody. They know who I am. They're still afraid of me when I step in that box."

Instead, Machado has focused his energy on a team-wide bounce-back season. The Padres, of course, signed Machado with the goal of contending in 2020 and beyond. If he leads San Diego to its first playoff berth in 14 years, his struggles at the end of a lost season last year will be forgotten.

In that regard, Machado again touted the importance of having a winter with a clear mind.

"It was just a focus," Machado said. "I knew where I was going. I had my home. ... I was able to just go out there, train, work on my craft -- work on hitting, ground balls, throwing, weight room. [I was] just able to focus on baseball and not the business side of the game."

So far, it’s paying off. Machado arrived in camp earlier this month with a light-hearted but workmanlike demeanor. He joked about how “swole” he’d gotten over the winter. Then, on Monday with his first swing in the Cactus League, he launched his first dinger.

Entering his ninth season, Machado wasn’t about to overhype the importance of one swing on Feb. 24. But he admitted it’s a nice start -- and perhaps a bit of a reward for his winter grind.

“I worked on it during the offseason, and Day 1, it paid off pretty well,” Machado said. “Now the hard part is to continue doing it.”