SARASOTA, Fla. -- The cause of Nick Markakis’ neck soreness is more severe than originally thought, but the Orioles hope that some rest will allow the team’s starting right fielder to return to spring training games in the next week or two.
A MRI on Monday revealed a small disk herniation — or slight tear — in the C4-C5 section (neck area) of Markakis’ spine, manager Buck Showalter said.
With this kind of minor tear, players are usually sidelined between seven to 14 days before they can resume baseball activities, Showalter said. Markakis was scratched from a game March 3 with neck spasms and hasn’t played since March 1, so the club is optimistic he can return in less than two weeks.
At this point, the Orioles do not believe Markakis is in jeopardy of missing the club’s opener against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 2.
“Everything else is structurally fine and some of the things you worry about with it weren’t present,” Showalter said. “So we have positive hopes it will resolve itself.”
One thing buoying that hope: Markakis never experienced tingling in his hands or a lack of strength — only a neck stiffness that kept returning. Still, Markakis and the Orioles had hoped the MRI would reveal only inflammation, so the discovery of the tear was concerning.
“We’d like for it to be nothing, just spasms,” Showalter said. “But when you start talking about [disk problems], you hope you get that type of prognosis.”
Markakis flew back to Baltimore on Tuesday to be examined by Johns Hopkins Hospital spine specialist Dr. Lee Riley and will return to Sarasota on Wednesday.
Riley is expected to review the MRI to make sure his opinion coincides with the original diagnosis. He was the specialist who initially worked with Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold as he dealt with disk problems last season.
Days after Markakis first experienced the spasms, they seemed to dissipate and he told reporters that he would have played through the discomfort if it were the regular season. But he felt the neck soreness again while playing with his kids two days later, and the pain intensified in subsequent mornings.
The news continues a string of health maladies for the 29-year-old Markakis, one of baseball’s most durable players before 2012, when he had surgery three different times (abdominal, wrist and thumb) and was limited to just 104 games, the fewest of his career.
In his rookie season in 2006, Markakis played 147 games. In the next five seasons he played in 157 or more games each year.
Traditionally, Markakis is the type of player who doesn’t feel like he needs many spring training at-bats to be ready for the regular season. Last spring, Markakis was recovering from January abdomen surgery and did not play in an exhibition game until March 14. He had 24 at-bats that spring and was the club’s Opening Day right fielder.
This spring he was 3-for-12 in four games before the neck injury.