Machado sharp in return to 3B: 'It’s so fun to watch him throw'

April 27th, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- ’s first game after the birth of his son was also his first game at third base since last August. The Phillies wasted no time testing his dad strength.

Machado was activated from the paternity list on Friday after his wife, Yainee, gave birth to the couple’s first child earlier this week. In the Padres’ series-opening 9-3 loss to Philadelphia at Petco Park, Machado was thrust straight into the action, and as usual, he made a handful of tricky plays look easy.

It had been a while. Last October, Machado underwent right elbow extensor tendon repair to address the tennis elbow that had been bothering him for parts of two seasons. He finished the 2023 season exclusively as a designated hitter, then he opened the '24 campaign the same way.

“First off, I’m excited just to be back and to play -- and to play defense finally,” Machado said prior to the game. “It’s something that I’ve missed, for sure.”

After Kyle Schwarber’s leadoff homer, the Phillies’ first ball in play was Trea Turner’s two-hopper to third. Machado fielded the short hop and fired a strike to first. He ended the inning by making a running throw to nab Nick Castellanos, then started the second by backtracking to snare Bryson Stott’s popup. He fielded two more routine grounders in the late innings.

“It’s good, man, you’re out there, so let’s break the ice a little bit,” said Padres manager Mike Shildt. “He was able to get the backhand -- man, it’s so fun to watch him throw. It looked good, so that was encouraging. He came in on a ball as well. So to be able to get multiple plays with different looks is a good thing.”

Machado’s nifty early glovework only made things slightly easier on starter Joe Musgrove, who was pounded for a career-high four home runs. Musgrove exited after allowing seven runs across 3 2/3 innings as his ERA ballooned to 6.94. After falling behind big early, the Padres never really threatened, but Machado still played the full nine.

A two-time Gold Glove Award winner, Machado can’t quite be considered the Padres’ full-time third baseman just yet. He’ll be slow-played back into the position, alternating some days at third and others at DH. The specifics of that trajectory will be dictated mostly by how Machado is feeling.

For now? He says his arm feels great. While the Padres were in Denver, Machado continued his throwing progression as a new dad on Wednesday and Thursday at Petco Park. He reported enough progress to start at third against Philadelphia.

“That’s why I’m out there,” Machado said. “I wouldn’t be out there if I wasn’t ready. … It’s been feeling a lot better. I mean, obviously that’s one thing. [Then there’s] 3 o’clock ground balls, and you step out there, you’ve got to stand for 2 1/2 hours, get hot, get cold, throwing between innings. That’s just another hurdle we’re going to step [over], but we’re ready for it.”

Machado, who is hitting .260/.321/.410 on the season after his 1-for-4 night Friday, said he came to appreciate the nuances of DH. But, yeah, one of the best defensive third basemen of his generation is happy to be back at third.

“I’ve done something for my entire life, so when you don’t do it for a good amount of time, it’s always a little different,” Machado said. “It’s fun to be on my feet for a little bit. I’m excited for that. It probably won’t be when my legs start getting a little tired in a few days. But for now, I’m pumped, for sure.”

Machado’s return to third base gives the Padres an undeniable boost -- and not just because of the value he brings defensively. They’ve used something of a platoon between lefty-hitting Tyler Wade and righty-hitting Eguy Rosario in Machado’s absence. That platoon will likely continue when Machado returns to DH -- which Shildt noted is expected on Saturday.

But when Machado plays third, the Padres can make stronger use of the DH spot, playing matchups and potentially giving some of their other regulars time off their feet. Rookie Graham Pauley started at DH on Friday night and launched his second career home run.

As for fatherhood, Machado asked that the details of his son’s birth be kept private. But his ear-to-ear smile made it clear what it means to him to be a dad.

“It’s awesome,” Machado said. “It’s obviously a unique experience. So blessed to be a part of it and enjoy it, and I’m just looking forward to seeing him grow.”