Padres' Manny Machado ramps up intensity after offseason surgery

ByAlden Gonzalez ESPN logo
Wednesday, February 14, 2024

PEORIA, Ariz. -- San Diego Padres star Manny Machado, who underwent offseason surgery to alleviate tennis elbow in his right arm, has been throwing for roughly six weeks and has spent the last week or so ramping up the intensity on the field.

Swinging a bat and fielding ground balls isn't a problem, Machado said. The biggest question, which hovers over his availability for the Padres' season-opening two-game series from South Korea on March 20, is "what my arm can tolerate throwing wise."

"Just building up my arm, building up the arm strength," Machado said from the Padres' spring training complex Tuesday afternoon. "I'm on a great program right now. Arm feels good how I'm building it up. It's just staying on that plan."

Machado, 31, spent a sizeable portion of his offseason in San Diego to work with the team's physical therapists. He missed his family and his boat in Miami, but he felt it was important to focus on his rehab coming off a relatively down season that saw him hit the injured list for the first time in nine years and finish with a .782 OPS -- 51 points lower than his career mark heading into 2023.

Machado also thought "communicating with the city" was important.

"It's big for them to see that we're in this with them at the end of the day," Machado said. "You just have to embrace everything that comes with it."

Despite a star-laden roster, the Padres fell well short of enormous expectations last year, finishing shy of the postseason with an 82-80 record bolstered by 14 wins over their past 16 games. The front office went into the offseason with plans to cut payroll, a pursuit that might have intensified with the Nov. 14 death of owner Peter Seidler, who famously spent big on the roster.

Less than a month later, superstar outfielder Juan Soto was traded to the New York Yankees in exchange for pitching depth.

Star closer Josh Hader has since signed with the Houston Astros and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell will eventually join a different team, too. The Padres, meanwhile, still have massive holes in their outfield and could use another starting pitcher and perhaps an extra hitter who can fill in at first base. But Machado expressed confidence in a group that he still headlines, alongside Fernando Tatis Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish.

"Obviously no one can replace Soto," Machado said. "He's the top player in the game. He's irreplaceable. I'm not saying that. But we believe in the guys that we have."

The Padres finished the 2023 season with a plus-104 run-differential, trailing only the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL lead. But they finished just 9-23 in one-run games and were one of the least clutch teams in the sport, prompting many to wonder if the massive expectations they entered the 2023 season with ultimately became a burden.

Machado dismissed that.

"At the end of the day, we just gotta play better," he said. "That's ultimately what it comes down to. ... We know we have it. It's there. We just gotta take it out from within. And the group that we have here, I think a lot of guys are hungry. They've been hungry all offseason. We've been communicating."

The Padres can absorb Machado initially spending time as the team's designated hitter by moving Ha-Seong Kim from second to third base and Jake Cronenworth from first to second base. That would require more additions to the lineup, which Padres general manager A.J. Preller is still striving to make.

The Opening Day payroll currently projects to somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 million, about $100 million less than where it stood at the start of last season. Preller said he still has the payroll flexibility to add and has been exploring the trade market for help, particularly in the outfield.

"I feel good with the team we have," Machado said. "We lost some big key pieces, but we believe in the guys that we have in here, with what our capabilities are. Obviously myself, Boggey and Tati, we have to perform better than we did last year. But other than that it's just going out there and just thinking as a team. At the end of the day, it's believing in each other."