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Next season is crucial for Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy

Next season is crucial for Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy

In J.J. Hardy’s 12-year major league career, he’s played for three different teams, yet he’s never been a free agent. 

A year from now, that could be different. 

Hardy has twice eschewed free agency for three-year contracts with the Orioles, once in 2011, and again as the American League Championship Series began in 2014. 

He probably could have made more money as a free agent each time, but that doesn’t bother him. 

The Orioles were overjoyed when he agreed to a three-year extension with a fourth-year option that runs through 2017. Hardy’s three-year contract guaranteed him $40 million, and if he has 600 plate appearances next season, a $14 million option kicks in.

His option also vests if Hardy is traded, which isn’t likely, but as a 10-year major leaguer with five years of service he’d have to agree to. 

Hardy hasn’t had 600 plate appearances since 2013, and in 2016 when he had 438, he played in only 115 games. 

Not only would Hardy have to be healthy to get 600 plate appearances, but his teammates would have to hit well, too, since manager Buck Showalter usually batted him seventh, eighth or ninth. 

His injury in 2016 came when he fouled a ball off his foot and broke it. Hardy missed seven weeks but came back strongly. 

He played as often in 2016 as in 2015 when a variety of injuries slowed him, but his offensive numbers moved up. His batting average rose from .215 to .269 and his RBIs increased from 37 to 48. 

Not only did his offense come back, but his defense was much better in 2016, too. His defensive WAR increased from 1.1 to 1.3, far off from his Gold Glove seasons of 2012-14, but still fine. 

Hardy is never going to hit 30 home runs in a season again as he did in 2011. In his past three seasons, he’s combined for only 26, but he gives Showalter a dependable, heady shortstop who has worked brilliantly with both Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop. 

Hardy came into spring training in terrific shape, and once he returned from his foot injury on June 18, he was rested only three times. 

A year from now, Hardy will be 35, and there are not many regular shortstops of that age, and while Machado, who played shortstop when Hardy was injured, would love to play there, the Orioles would like to put that move off for a while. 

While Hardy won’t be the biggest story of 2017, it will certainly be one worth watching. If he can have another season like this one, even if he doesn’t have 600 plate appearances, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Orioles extend him for another year or two. 

That way Hardy could end his career with the Orioles, and without testing free agency. He’ll say he didn’t miss anything. 

MORE ORIOLES: Will Hyun Soo Kim remain a fixture for O's in left field?

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Machado homers as Orioles beat Rangers 6-5

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Machado homers as Orioles beat Rangers 6-5

For well over six seasons, Manny Machado's value to the Baltimore Orioles has been solely his ability to hit and play the field.

All that has changed, now that the Orioles are looking to receive a huge return for their All-Star shortstop in a blockbuster trade.

Machado homered before being removed on a wet day, Adam Jones hit a three-run double and Baltimore rallied past the Texas Rangers 6-5 Sunday.

Machado was taken out of the game in the fifth inning by manager Buck Showalter after a 26-minute rain delay. The move was designed to get their star player off a sloppy field, because the last-place Orioles are entertaining offers for Machado before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

"Obviously there's a different situation going on with Manny. You all know that," Showalter said. "That had a lot to do with it."

Plain and simple, the Orioles can't afford to have Machado get hurt. Now, more than ever.

"A month ago he wouldn't have come out of the game," Showalter acknowledged. "We know that. You know it."

After being replaced by Jace Peterson, Machado sat in the dugout, wearing a sweatshirt and joking with his teammates.

"I don't know why (Showalter) did it or not," Machado said. "He just told me, `I'm going to take you out. You had a good first half and go represent us well in the All-Star Game.'"

Machado is Baltimore's lone representative for Tuesday's showcase. He has spent his entire career in Baltimore, but his contract expires after this season and the Orioles don't appear interested in locking him up with a long-term deal.

"I'm going to the All-Star Game as an Oriole and as a shortstop. It's just always a blessing," Machado said. "I thank God. I thank my family for always supporting me, my teammates, the fans, the organization. I mean it's just been very incredible."

In a matchup between two teams staggering into the break, Texas got a first-inning grand slam from rookie Ronald Guzman but quickly gave the lead away in losing for the seventh time in nine games.

Machado ignited the comeback with his 24th homer, and Jones' bases-clearing double in the third off Mike Minor (6-6) put Baltimore ahead to stay.

"I'll be fine," said Minor, who yielded five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings. "I'll reflect a little bit and then get back to it."

The game ended when Texas pinch-runner Carlos Tocci was thrown out at the plate on a double by Elvis Andrus. Running from first base, Tocci was tagged out by catcher Caleb Joseph following throws by right fielder Mark Trumbo and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

"Textbook," Showalter said.

Texas manager Jeff Bannister called it a "situation where they had to throw it on line to throw Tocci out. They executed well."

Tanner Scott (1-1), the first of four Baltimore relievers, earned his first big league win.

Zach Britton, another Oriole supposedly on the trading block, worked the ninth for his fourth save, the second in two days.

Texas broke on top when Miguel Castro issued three straight walks and Guzman sent a one-out drive over the right-field wall for his first career grand slam.

It was 4-1 in the third when Joseph hit an RBI double and Jones doubled down the left-field line following a walk to Machado.

Shin-Soo Choo homered in the seventh to get the Rangers to 6-5.

STREAKY

Choo opened the game with a walk, extending to 51 his single-season club record streak of games reaching base via a hit, walk or HBP. ... Texas' Delino DeShields went 0 for 3, stretching his hitless drought to 28 at-bats. ... Jones snapped a 1-for-16 skid with his third-inning double.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Rangers: RF Nomar Mazara was given the day off after hurting his hand Saturday night in the outfield.

Orioles: RHP Chris Tillman (back) was set to make his final rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Norfolk. ... INF Steve Wilkerson (oblique) and OF Craig Gentry (rib fracture) likely won't come off the DL before August, Showalter said. ... RHP Andrew Cashner (neck strain) will be activated from the DL on Saturday or Sunday to face Toronto, Showalter said.

UP NEXT

Rangers: The rotation after the All-Star break, beginning Friday against visiting Cleveland: Martin Perez, Bartolo Colon, Cole Hamels, Yovani Gallardo and Minor.

Orioles: After the All-Star break, Dylan Bundy will start at Toronto on Friday night.

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Orioles unable to punch in final run late against Rangers

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Orioles unable to punch in final run late against Rangers

BALTIMORE -- Ryan Rua had a tiebreaking, pinch-hit three-run homer in the seventh inning and the Texas Rangers held on to beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-4 Friday night to snap a three-game losing streak.

Cole Hamels (5-8) won for the first time in almost a month, allowing four runs and five hits with three strikeouts and one walk over 6 1/3 innings in a matchup of last-place teams.

Rua broke a 1-1 deadlock with the first pinch-hit of his career, off rookie Tanner Scott. Nomar Mazara added an RBI double later that inning, which made it 5-1 and boosted Scott's ERA from 5.88 to 6.84 over 26 appearances.

Baltimore pulled within a run on Caleb Joseph's three-run double against reliever Jose Leclerc in the bottom half of the inning. The Orioles loaded the bases in the eighth but Jake Diekman got out of the jam by getting Chris Davis on a short pop out.

Keone Kela got the last three outs for his 23rd save.

The Orioles have lost 17 of 20 and fell to 14-33 at Camden Yards, the second-worst home mark in the majors behind Kansas City.

Joey Gallo gave the Rangers the lead when he led off the fifth with a home run off Alex Cobb (2-12). The Orioles answered in the bottom half when Adam Jones hit a double just inside the left-field foul line and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia.

Cobb left his previous start against the Twins in the sixth inning with a blister on his right index finger. He did not appear hampered by the injury and allowed two runs and six hits with three strikeouts and no walks over 6 1/3 innings.