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Tigers’ Machado patiently bides time for shot to shine

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

St. Petersburg, Fla. — If selfishness or immaturity were part of his profile, Dixon Machado by now would have thrown something of a tantrum.

Six at-bats. That’s all he had gotten through the Tigers’ first 12 games.

But rather than sigh, or snort, or shrug his shoulders in miffed acceptance of his role and roster reality, Machado, a 25-year-old infielder with what must be a diploma from the University of Personal Goodness, smiled as easily as he spoke Tuesday about a job that keeps him mostly confined to the Tigers dugout.

“I’m trying not to think too much about it,” Machado said in the visitor’s clubhouse at Tropicana Field, where the Tigers were preparing for an evening game against the Rays in the first of a three-game series. “I’m just trying to stay in the moment. And not get too worried about what happened yesterday or what happens tomorrow.”

As personnel problems go, Machado hardly qualifies. Not in his mind. Not in the Tigers’ estimation.

He is a backup player. In the big leagues. He could be playing regularly at Triple A Toledo, which is where the Tigers frankly would have preferred that he start the year.

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But his status offered no such discretion in 2017. Machado was out of minor-league options. He either had to be retained on the 25-man Opening Day list, or be thrown to the waiver wire, where it’s certain he would have been grabbed by teams that rather appreciate 6-foot-1, 170-pound shortstops who can deftly handle grounders rifled at them and who can make throws as strong as those in which Machado specializes.

There was, of course, no room for him to break into manager Brad Ausmus’ lineup, even semi-regularly. Jose Iglesias is the starter there and not about to be unseated by a player who hasn’t shown that his offense would be appreciably better than numbers Iglesias has been known to accrue (.256 heading into Tuesday’s game).

And so Machado shows up each day. He dresses. He takes batting practice. He fields grounders. He sits in the dugout during games in which he rarely plays.

And it’s nearly impossible to see that his personal peace is in any way diminished.

He is in the big leagues.

“It’s not an issue,” Machado said of the inactivity. “It’s not easy, but I just try and keep things positive. I’m happy to be here. I don’t want to be in Toledo.

“It’s not my moment now. But maybe it will be.”

The Tigers are thinking along those same lines. Iglesias is a year from free agency and could be expensive next season when his salary, which is now $4.1 million, is sure to rise as he welcomes the possibility of arbitration.

Machado is important protection for a team that is likely to pay serious money this year for payroll overruns.

Iglesias could at some point be traded. It’s conceivable he could be non-tendered at the end of the year. Dollars matter now more than in past years, which is why Machado will be pondered as a possible replacement, even when his career batting numbers aren’t impressive: .248 in eight minor-league seasons, .202 in 36 big-league games that include a mere 84 at-bats.

But the Tigers also know another of their shortstop prospects, Eugenio Suarez, had modest numbers during his break-in years. Suarez was dealt to the Reds late in 2014 for Alfredo Simon and last year slammed 21 homers for the Reds.

It’s not a precise comparison. But given the position’s rigors and Machado’s defense, as well as the possibility he could add extra-base pop as he gets older, the Tigers aren’t dismissing ideas Machado could be understudying in 2017 for regular work in another year.

It’s simply that this is not an ideal way to dress-rehearse for a future role — sitting and playing so rarely.

“It’s a tricky situation,” said Machado, who was signed nine years ago, at age 16, when he was living in San Cristobal-Tachira, Venezuela. “It’s part of the process. At some time I will have my time.

“I’m just trying to help. I’m really OK. The most important thing is that I would be here than in Toledo. I’m really done with that.”

Ausmus saidhe understands there’s a fair amount of dust that collects on players in Machado’s situation. He talks with Machado. It’s easily sensed when a young man who is part of a 25-player effort needs to be reminded he isn’t forgotten.

“I talked with him during the last home stand,” said Ausmus, who gave Machado a start in last week’s series against the Twins. “I said: ‘Times will be tough.’

“He said he understands.”

And he does. No complaints, no grievances, no frowns will be found at the Machado locker cubicle. Simply smiles. And gratitude. And upbeat words from a player who hopes someday his glove and bat will confirm the Tigers’ faith in carrying him.