We’ve talked a lot about injuries this spring, however there’s one injured player about whom we haven’t heard much: Nick Markakis. The issue with Markakis has been somewhat subtle in that we first heard about it on the final day of last season (September 28, 2011). Markakis came out of that game after the 8th inning with abdominal pain. That fact almost became a footnote in history if you will in the aftermath of that game which saw the Orioles eliminate the BoSox from the playoffs. Furthermore, most people probably figured that Markakis would heal up during the off season and be fresh as a daisy come March when spring training began.
On January 5th we found out that Markakis had surgery to repair a turn abdominal muscle. This came as a surprise to many Oriole fans given that Markakis was not a guy that easily came out of games and so forth. At the time Buck Showalter said that the goal was for Markakis to be in the lineup on Opening Day on April 6th, and that’s what he’s still maintaining. Markakis has been taking batting practice and working out; Markakis and the Orioles are also saying that he’s feeling good, and they feel that he’s on the pace he should be. Buck Showalter has said that we shouldn’t expect to see Markakis in a spring game prior to March 10th at the earliest. The good news is that Markakis is a guy that traditionally only needs a few (spring) games in order to get into game shape. So fans shouldn’t be wary if Markakis doesn’t show up in the lineup even after that date. Markakis is a guy that could easily be in mid-season form after just a few spring games.
Just to play devil’s advocate; what if something unforeseen occurs? Obviously you have to trust what Markakis and the medical folks are saying, and that things will generally go the way they say they will. However medicine is not an exact science. Remember 2010 when back spasms sidelined Brian Roberts until the last week of spring training? Roberts was injured in the fourth game of the season stealing second base, and wasn’t heard from again until August. Admittedly that might well have been partially due to manager Dave Trembley only putting Roberts into games after only a week of spring training games. I understand and respect why Trembley did that, however ultimately it backfired.
Markakis has said that they’re taking him slowly along; that might not be what he wants to hear and ultimately it also concerns fans a bit. However if the goal is to get Markakis ready for opening day, it looks like he’s at the very least on pace. In drawing a comparison to Roberts’ situation of two years ago, I’m also aware of the fact that abdominal and back issues are two starkly different things. Once back problems start to flair up they’re hard to get rid of (although it’s been awhile since we’ve heard about Roberts’ back). Ultimately the Orioles want to make sure to temper their yearn to get Markakis into spring games and thus into regular season form in the spirit of ensuring his long-term health.
Therefore I suppose we should let the matter rest until at least March 10th or so, especially given that Markakis traditionally only needs a few games to truly get into game shape. However it will be interesting to see how Showalter plays the first week or so of spring games with regard to right field. Does Endy Chavez see some action, or perhaps Jai Miller? For what one writer’s opinion is worth, I’d like to see both of those guys get into the games in Markakis’ stead, however I’d like to see Miller a bit more often. While Chavez was a good signing by the Orioles in the name of depth and experience, Miller is a guy that the Orioles should work out to see if he has a future here. The O’s traded for him after all, and at worst he himself could turn into trade bait down the line if he’s not a fit here right now. (The fact that he was featured on panels at FanFest is telling.) As for Markakis, he needs to simply focus on working out and getting stronger…and if all else fails, a prescription of more cowbell is probably in order!
I’ve been in and around sports since I was a child as a player, coach, and a fan. I consistently led the league in technical fouls when I was a basketball coach, and one famous incident I was tossed out of a game for protecting a player from poor officiating. The Orioles beat the Oakland A’s 4-2 the first time my father took me to Memorial Stadium as a kid, and I was hooked for life. While the “old lady” was far from a thing of beauty, to that point I had never seen grass so green, tasted hot dogs so good, or smelled beer so cold! Since that day many years ago, each time I'm at a ballgame I pay a bit of homage to that eight year old boy sitting in Memorial Stadium with his father. See you at the yard!