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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Manny Machado not hustling to first on grounders is not a big deal

Teams that may seek his services are rightfully more in tune with his power numbers than infield singles.

Manny Machado #8 of the Los Angeles Dodgers

Manny Machado #8 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after hitting a double during the ninth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers in Game Three of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 15, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Harry How

LOS ANGELES — Sometimes, apparently, Manny Machado doesn’t run hard to first base on grounders to the shortstop.

But that begs the eternal question for players of his stature: How much should it matter?

Machado drew the collective scorn of the baseball-watching world in Game 2 of the NLCS when he bailed on a bouncer to Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia, who in turn took his time throwing over to first base. Is it something that Derek Jeter would have done? No. Robinson Cano? Maybe. A-Rod? Eh, he had plenty of other issues to worry about.

We bring up those trio of high-profile former Yankees because, as you may have heard recently, Machado could end up being fitted for pinstripes during this winter, should general manager Brian Cashman simply whip out his checkbook to fill the void left by Didi Gregorius’ Tommy John surgery.

Machado has told friends he wants to play for the Yankees someday, liked an Instagram post of him photoshopped in pinstripes earlier this season and Cashman even discussed trading for him in July before the Dodgers acquired him.

Should all that just be blown up now that Machado confessed to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, in response to his Game 2 stroll, that he flat-out doesn’t hustle on occasion? It was surprising for a player to be that candid on such an unflattering topic, especially one that’s only two weeks away from free agency. But Machado didn’t have any problem leading with his chin.

“I’ve been thinking about it and it happens every time, there’s no excuse for it honestly,” Machado told The Athletic. “I’ve never given excuses for not running. I’m not hurt, there’s no excuse, but I’ve been the same player … I’ve been doing this for eight years, I’m in The Show for eight years, I’ve done the same thing for eight years, I’ve been the same player [it’s actually seven].

“Obviously I’m not going to change. I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen. That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”

Machado made those comments before Monday’s Game 3 at Chavez Ravine, but then was the only Dodger not to appear in the postgame clubhouse, despite team officials initially saying that he would. That night, in the Brewers’ 4-0 victory, Machado had two aggressive slides into second base on attempts to break up double plays. The first time he was successful. The second was challenged by Brewers manager Craig Counsell, and the umpires determined, after a video review, Machado had violated the Utley Rule — so Cody Bellinger was called out as well.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts agreed with the umpiring crew’s verdict, but we never got Machado’s side of the story. He’s done such things before, and the baseball-purist crowd probably would defend his behavior.

As for Machado saying he’s no “Johnny Hustle,” that was more offensive to a considerably larger audience. But Machado putting into words what everyone already watched shouldn’t really be all that shocking. Machado, 26, is an exceptional talent, a perennial MVP candidate and prototypical franchise player— a lethal run producer that also is a Gold Glove fielder.

Aside from his injury-shortened ’14 season, Machado has averaged 159 games the past five years, twice playing the full 162, so that should factor into the debate. If Machado tends to glide on occasion, what’s the big deal? If he’s able to stay on the field, with the potential to deliver an MVP-caliber performance each night he suits up, quibbling over groundouts seems to us a little shortsighted.

Plus, look at how 21st century baseball is played, anyway. Either someone like Machado smacks one over the wall or hits it halfway up for a double. Machado isn’t going to change many games by hustling for infield singles. That’s a job for the Brett Gardners, and Machado said as much in his comments on the subject.

For a team like the Yankees or the handful of other teams that will end up biding for his services, they’re not shelling out $30-35 million a year for a Johnny Hustle. They want the guy who consistently hits 35 homers, drives in 100 runs and posts a .900 OPS.

Machado knows it, too, which is why he had no problem copping to his most glaring character flaw, the one he displayed on national TV Saturday night. If Machado powers the Dodgers past the Brewers in this NLCS, nobody is going to remember him downshifting on a Game 2 groundout.

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