Machado confident about breakout amid lingering elbow pain

May 15th, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- It's been 7 1/2 months since underwent surgery on his right elbow. He still feels it. Some days, it barks when he hits. Some days it barks when he throws. He's not 100 percent. But as Machado is quick to remind just about anyone who asks -- in the middle of a baseball season, nobody is.

So, about that elbow... Through 40 games, Machado is hitting just .228/.282/.354. How big a factor has it been in contributing to his slow start?

"There's no excuse," Machado said prior to the Padres’ 6-3 loss to the Rockies at Petco Park on Tuesday, which snapped their streak of four straight series victories. "It's not my elbow. Obviously we all know I got the surgery on it. I'm not making the excuse that my swing's not where it needs to be because of my elbow. Because there's days where I feel great.

“It's just a matter of making the adjustment and finding things that click. Right now things aren't clicking. You've just got to keep swinging through it, keep grinding through it until it does. Because when it does, it's going to be fun.”

Machado has started slowly before. He's turned some of those slow starts into MVP-caliber seasons. But those seasons also didn't come amid an extensive rehab process. Machado underwent the operation last October, because he'd been feeling the effects of tennis elbow for most of 2022 and '23. Toward the end of last year, he played sparingly and was relegated to DH duty.

This year, Machado got a late start to Spring Training, and he opened the season as a DH. He's since returned to third base -- and Tuesday marked the first time he'd played third base on three straight days. Clearly, he’s making some progress.

Still, Machado noted that, offensively, his elbow “is not letting me do some of the things that I've been used to doing.” He’s still trying to find his swing. While attempting to be honest about his injury, Machado tried painstakingly to note this wasn’t an excuse.

"We get paid the big bucks," he said. "I get paid the big bucks. So we've got to make adjustments. … You've got to be better.”

None of these hurdles have been unexpected, Machado says. He’s working his way through it, and his elbow has felt incrementally better the further he gets from the operation.

“There's good days, there's bad days -- it's a surgery,” Machado said. “So it's going to be a roller coaster that you're going to have to ride and overcome some of those things.”

It’s unclear the precise extent to which the injury is affecting Machado’s performance. In Monday’s series opener, he went 0-for-4, grounding into the game-ending double play with the bases loaded -- drawing ire from some fans, because Machado was first-pitch swinging after Rockies closer Jalen Beeks had walked three Padres in the frame.

A day later, it was deja vu. Machado twice grounded into double plays on the first pitch, bringing his National League-leading total to nine. Thing is, this is merely Manny being Manny. He’s always loved ambushing pitchers in those moments -- and, as a career .355 hitter when he puts the first pitch in play, he has the numbers to back it up.

Thing is, Machado was just being himself. He loves ambushing pitchers in those moments -- and he has an extensive track record of success with the bases loaded to support his approach.

“I'm never going to stop,” Machado said of swinging first-pitch. “I'm going to keep doing it. I've done it my entire career. I'm not going to stop now. Why now? It was a good pitch. I just hit it right to their guy.”

Tuesday’s loss dropped the Padres back below .500. They’ve gotten strong performances around the fringes on offense. But their superstars have struggled -- Machado, Xander Bogaerts and, to a lesser extent, Fernando Tatis Jr.

“Our big guys, we're not swinging it too well, let's be honest,” Machado said. “We're not playing at our highest level, and we're at .500. We're still playing some good baseball. We're winning games, we're beating tough teams, we're doing what we need to be doing, and we're not even going yet. Speaks volumes of this team.”

So, is Machado confident he’ll be able to get back to that MVP-caliber version of himself this season, post-surgery?

“Absolutely, no question about it,” he said. “Just because I know who I am. I know where my swing's going to be. I know where I'm going to be. It's a long season ahead of me. I'll be back. I'll be where I need to be.”