LOS ANGELES -- Manny Machado isn’t the solution to all that ails the Padres’ offense. But he’s back, and that’s a start.
The superstar third baseman returned to the San Diego lineup Thursday night as the Padres took a 3-1 defeat in the opener of a four-game series against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. After nine games on the sideline, Machado served as designated hitter, going 1-for-4 with a first-inning double.
It was only 11 days ago that Machado sustained a gruesome-looking left ankle injury in Colorado, landing awkwardly on first base before immediately falling to the ground in pain. He was later diagnosed with a sprain, and Machado did not require any time on the injured list (keeping his eight-season streak without an IL stint intact).
“For what it was, I'm surprised that I'm playing today,” said Machado, who again refused to get into the specifics of the injury itself. “I'll leave it like that.”
Machado, perhaps the early MVP favorite in the National League, has been getting round-the-clock treatment on his ankle for most of the past 10 days. He didn’t fly with the team to Arizona, because he didn’t want the additional swelling that comes with flying. So he was driven to Phoenix, and, on Wednesday, drove from Phoenix to Los Angeles.
After the usual chorus of Dodger Stadium boos that precedes his at-bats, Machado wasted no time putting his ankle to the test. In his first at-bat, he shot a liner toward the left-field line and had to slide into second base for a double.
“That's what the baseball gods gave me,” Machado said. “That’s just what it is. … It’s beautiful.”
Two batters later, Machado came around to score on Nomar Mazara’s RBI single, giving the Padres an early lead. But Machado struck out in each of his next three at-bats -- the first time this season he has fanned three times in a game.
It was an uninspiring offensive display for the Padres in their first game at Dodger Stadium this year, further underscoring why they needed Machado back so badly in the first place.
In 67 games this season, Machado has a slash line of .327/.398/.545 while playing his usual Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base. On Thursday, Machado was named alongside Nolan Arenado as the finalists for the NL’s starting third-base job at the All-Star Game later this month at Dodger Stadium.
On the mound, right-hander Joe Musgrove was dominant for most of the night but surrendered a pair of home runs to Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, including a go-ahead two-run shot in the bottom of the seventh inning. Still, it was a solid bounce-back effort for Musgrove, who endured his first poor start of the season last week against Philadelphia. He worked seven innings, allowing just three runs on five hits and a walk while striking out 10.
“This one sucks,” Musgrove said. “It almost hurts a little more when you throw really well and two pitches ruin the night.”
Musgrove, however, could acknowledge the night wasn’t entirely ruined. Machado’s presence served as something of a silver lining.
“Oh man, that guy worked so hard to even be in,” Musgrove said. “He did everything he could to be back in this lineup by this series, and we’re grateful for it. I love seeing him in the lineup when I’m pitching.”
Prior to the game, manager Bob Melvin alluded to the possibility that Machado would likely sit at least one game against the Dodgers this weekend, as the team looks to play it safe in his recovery. Melvin also said that it’s possible Machado could return to third base this weekend, too.
“We'll see how I feel,” Machado said. “This was definitely a big step in the right direction. So we'll see what tomorrow brings us. Tomorrow's a different day.”
And how did his ankle feel on Day 1 back in the lineup?
“We lost,” Machado said. “That’s what hurts the most.”