By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
5:51 PM EDT, March 30, 2014
Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis might not play in Monday’s regular-season opener at Camden Yards against the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox because of lingering neck stiffness.
Manager Buck Showalter said Markakis, who was scratched from the starting lineup for the club’s exhibition game at Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, was feeling better Sunday.
But Showalter said Markakis could sit Monday so he can receive two additional days — the Orioles have a scheduled off day Tuesday — to see if it would help to eradicate the discomfort. The club would rather give him days off now as a precaution than risk the stiffness developing into something more serious in the future.
“He’s still a little sore,” Showalter said Sunday. “Hopefully, it will get better. I’ve got two lineups, one with him in it and one without him in it tomorrow. There’s some thought of him getting the benefit of another day with it. … I was hoping it would manage a little bit overnight better. It’s much better. We’ll see if it’s enough to play tomorrow.”
The longest-tenured Orioles player on this year’s roster, Markakis has played in eight straight Opening Day games for the club. He entered late in the 2006 opener before starting the past seven years.
Markakis started feeling the stiffness on the team’s flight to Norfolk on Saturday morning.
“It’s loosening up little by little,” Showalter said. “He was fine when we got on the plane, so we’ll see.”
Last March, Markakis dealt with a slightly herniated disk in his neck and doctors told him that sudden flare-ups were possible.
Young, Meek added to roster
While finalizing their 25-man roster for Opening Day, the Orioles made a pair of moves Sunday afternoon to clear space on their 40-man roster for outfielder Delmon Young and right-hander Evan Meek, who were both nonroster invitees to spring training.
The club placed right-hander Edgmer Escalona — who was sidelined in early March with right shoulder inflammation — on the 60-day disabled list and designated left-hander Mike Belfiore for assignment.
Both Meek and Young signed later in the offseason to a minor league deal. Young signed during the team’s minicamp in Sarasota, Fla., in the middle of January, and Meek signed shortly after throwing a bullpen session at Camden Yards during the Orioles’ FanFest event Feb. 1.
“Coming in two months ago, I told myself I want to pitch here,” said Meek, who made the National League All-Star team in 2010 with the Pittsburgh Pirates but dealt with shoulder issues and didn’t pitch in the major leagues last season. “I want to be a part of this club, but there were a lot of things that had to happen. … When you come from what happened to me, where you’re struggling to find a job, you’re grateful just to have a jersey on your back.”
Young, a 28-year-old former No. 1 overall pick, said he’s finally completely healthy after microfracture surgery on his ankle before the 2013 season.
“It was good from the first time I met Buck in mini[camp] workouts,” Young said. “He just said, ‘Show us what you’ve got, and if you are the right guy for our team, you have a chance to make it.’ So I was finally healthy, where I didn’t have to report to the training room and do rehab work instead. … I could come in here and show people I'm fully healthy.”
No official word on closer
Right-hander Tommy Hunter said he hasn’t been told that he will start the season as the closer, but he also said that he didn’t expect an announcement.
“I don’t see him doing that,” Hunter said about Showalter officially designating a closer. “I’ve never seen him do that. Guys just fall into place where he uses them. I don’t think he uses any specific words, like, ‘You’re this guy,’ or, ‘You’re that guy.’ It’s just assumed after a while, who’s who. I guess we’ll wait and see.”
It’s not a secret, however, that Hunter is the leading candidate to replace Jim Johnson, who was traded to the Oakland Athletics in December.
“It’s going to play itself out. … [Monday] night hopefully,” said Hunter, a former starter who has never been a full-time closer. “We’re going to go out and play baseball. You just throw the ball when you get it.
“I think we’ll figure them [roles] out pretty quick. Buck’s pretty good at getting the guys in there that he wants to get in there, and who he wants to get in at certain times. We’ll figure it out. If that’s the case, it’s the case, just get the ball and go.”
Schoop receives praise
Showalter praised top position player prospect Jonathan Schoop, who won the final infield roster spot in a battle with second baseman Jemile Weeks.
“I like the way he’s engaged defensively,” Showalter said. “I think our whole organization, everybody knows that it’s important. … Jonathan has [been] engaged and has continued to grow as a defender. There’s a process with all young players’ development.”
Schoop hit .385 (15-for-39) with five doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs this spring.
“We’ll see if Jonathan needs to go back and learn from what he’s been exposed to last fall and this year,” Showalter said. “This is a part of the process, and this is where the process has led him right now. … I think he gets great confidence in the confidence we have in him.”
Workout moved inside
The Orioles’ planned workout Sunday afternoon was canceled because of rain and light snow, so the players hit in the indoor batting cages and did other drills inside the stadium.
The field shouldn’t be affected by the heavy rain that fell this weekend or the snow that has hit the Baltimore area this month because it is expected to be sunny and warm by the start of the game Monday.
The National Weather Service forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies through mid-morning Monday, followed by gradual clearing and a high temperature near 60 degrees. It’s expected to be breezy, with northwest winds around 20 mph and gusts as high as 36 mph.
Around the horn
A plaque honoring former Orioles public relations director Monica Barlow was placed behind her gameday seat in the Camden Yards press box. Barlow died Feb. 28 at age 36 following a 41/2-year battle with lung cancer. The club will honor her as part of a pregame ceremony Monday, and the players hope to have their own tribute to Barlow. … Asked if it is important for the Orioles to get a quick start against the Red Sox in their opening series, Showalter said: “Statements are made at the end of 162 games. … Obviously, they were the best team in baseball last year, so it’s a challenge. Everyone says, you have a real challenge in April. Have you seen May or June or July?”
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