Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy has a non-displaced fracture of a bone in his right wrist and will be out four to six weeks at least, and maybe longer.
Hardy, who was struck on the wrist by a Lance Lynn fastball Sunday, said he won’t need surgery, but he can’t do baseball activities for four-to-six weeks, meaning he is probably lost for two months.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter was a little more optimistic, saying he hoped Hardy could re-join the Orioles in that four-to-six-week timeframe.
Regardless, the club’s “quarterback in the infield” as Showalter calls Hardy, will be lost until some point in August.
And though he hasn’t hit much this season — .211 with three homers and 21 RBIs in 64 games – Hardy was better at the plate recently, 7-for-23 (.304) in his previous seven games after he and hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh worked on some things and “reset” the season.
Hardy’s absence will be felt most defensively – specifically, Showalter said, because of the “calmness” Hardy presents, and the fact he is always in the right position and mindset no matter the defensive situation.
Now, one of the better defensive infields in the American League is without its shortstop and first baseman – Chris Davis is lost at least through the All-Star Break with a right oblique strain.
Here are some thoughts on the news and what it means:
Who plays shortstop in Hardy’s absence?
Showalter made it clear Monday that his first choice is not third baseman Manny Machado, who moved from third to shortstop last year when Hardy was injured.
Instead, it is likely Ruben Tejada, picked up earlier this month for cash considerations from the New York Yankees, will get most of the playing time at shortstop.
“I’d rather, in a perfect world, kind of leave everybody where they are and not disrupt everything,” Showalter said. “We learned some things last year (with Machado at shortstop), none of them bad, but I think we’ll probably proceed down the road at Ruben and see. We’ve got a short look at him, so far so good.”
Machado is the best defensive third baseman in the American League. Last year, he looked like a guy learning to play shortstop again. He was fine, but so would have been other defensive options at shortstop. No one can replace Machado’s glove at third base, however.
That’s how I see it, and that’s what I took from Showalter’s words Monday, if you read between the lines.
“It’s pretty taxing, I think, on Manny moving back and forth, especially at this time of year with the number of games he has under his belt. So, I wanna be careful of that, but he or Jon (Schoop) both could go over there.”
Is Schoop playing shortstop really be a possibility?
Schoop did it in the minors, before Machado’s presence moved him to third base and then second. And we all know Schoop has the arm for it.
So, I don’t think it is an impossibility that Schoop could play shortstop. But, no, I don’t see it happening. Certainly not with any regularity – maybe for a spot start or in an emergency.
“I think a lot of people miss that about Jon, too,” Showalter said about Schoop’s ability to play shortstop. “I’d rather, right now, go down the path with Ruben and see how that works.”
That’s the simplest move. Leave Machado and Schoop were they are, and disrupt one position – and fill that with a guy who has been a big league shortstop in the past.
Who gets called up to replace Hardy on the 25-man roster?
It will be an infielder, and the best guess would be veteran Paul Janish, who is a Showalter favorite due to his dependable glove and professional attitude. He could come up as a utility infielder, though, and not threaten Tejada’s likely starting spot.
The Orioles also have infielder Luis Sardinas at Triple-A Norfolk, so he is a possibility, too.
Some Twitter followers asked me about Pedro Alvarez as a possibility. I don’t envision that one – I don’t think he is viewed as a third-base candidate at this point.
By my count, the Orioles are at 39 on the 40-man roster, so they could add someone without dropping another player. But that list changes so quickly, I may have lost count. Regardless, there are some players on the 40-man who probably can be removed without major pain. A move likely will be announced before Monday’s game – if it indeed is played (the sense is it will be).
What does this mean for Hardy’s future?
It’s kind of the elephant in the room, but the injury means there is no way he’ll reach 600 plate appearances, and, therefore, Hardy’s 2018 option will not vest. If he had stayed healthy, he was in striking distance of 600 – he was on pace for 330 plate appearances in the club’s final 94 games – which would put have put him at 569.
So, Hardy, an expected free agent, will certainly be a free agent at age 35 this winter. He would have made $14 million if the option had vested; there is a $2 million buyout.
There’s not an obvious shortstop candidate ready in the system, so maybe the Orioles will try to re-sign him. But a precarious Orioles’ future became even more murky with Monday’s news.
What about Ryan Flaherty?
This is when we realize how important utilityman Ryan Flaherty can be. With Tejada and Flaherty on the 25-man roster, the Orioles wouldn’t be immediately suspect at any position. An in-game injury would more easily be absorbed if Flaherty was healthy.
But he’s on the 10-day disabled list with a strained right shoulder and Showalter said that Flaherty suffered a minor setback today in his rehab. He had been throwing catch at 60 feet without discomfort, ramped it to a little farther and “felt it somewhat, so that was discouraging a little bit, for him and us. We’ll see. He’ll go back to 60 feet and we’ll see what we got.”
In other words, no timetable on Flaherty’s return.
Any good news?
Well, even though rain postponed Zach Britton’s scheduled appearance Monday, it’ll be pushed back one day and he’ll start his rehab assignment Tuesday at Aberdeen. Rain days were built into the closer’s schedule for return, Showalter said, so the one-day postponement won’t alter his schedule. Britton is on the DL with a forearm strain.
And one of Britton’s key set-up men, Darren O’Day (right shoulder strain) threw a bullpen session Monday, will have a simulated outing Wednesday and, if all goes well, could be activated Friday.
So, at least the bullpen is on its way to being stronger again. You have that going for you.