Nick Markakis

Orioles designated hitter Nick Markakis grounds out against the Pirates in the second inning. In his first Grapefruit League game of the season, Markakis went 0-for-2 with a walk. (US Presswire photo / March 14, 2012)

In a spring training camp that has been dominated by injury news, the Orioles welcomed back two key players Wednesday in an 11-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Neither did particularly well, but the Orioles don't care about results right now. They just want Nick Markakis and Jim Johnson healthy when the season begins.

"It's a good feel for everybody to see them out there," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "You don't even get too involved at this point in the returns."

Markakis, the club's Gold Glove right fielder, played in his first game this spring after having surgery to repair abdominal tears in January.

Appearing as a designated hitter, Markakis went 0-for-2 with a walk, then left the game after the fifth inning. He struck out on three pitches in his first at-bat, walked on five in his final at-bat and in the middle hit a chopper to first base on a 2-0 count.

"I was just happy to get back out there, get some at-bats and start this thing off right," Markakis said. "And get it going in the right direction."

Markakis will likely take two games off and play again Saturday at home. His goal is to have 20 to 25 at-bats before the exhibition season ends.

"The way the schedule plays out right now, I'll be getting right at that," he said. "So I am pretty happy with it. I'm ready."

Perhaps the biggest test will be when Markakis plays the field for the first time, which is scheduled for Tuesday at home against the Philadelphia Phillies. The one drawback to Wednesday for Markakis is that he didn't get a chance to run the bases. He was stranded at first in the fifth.

"The biggest thing was I wasn't too worried about baseball activity, I just wanted to see how my body would react to my natural reactions. It was fine. I didn't get to run. But we still got time for that," Markakis said. "I would have liked to have run, just to see where I'm at. I ran the bases a lot prior to this and, you know, I think I'm where I want to be right now."

Johnson, who hadn't pitched in a major league game this spring because of lower-back discomfort, looked rusty in a 22-pitch performance in the fifth. He allowed four hits and three runs while retiring three batters.

"It was the first real game action I have had, so it was good," said Johnson, who is the leading candidate to be the club's closer. "Arm didn't hurt. Back didn't hurt. That's a positive. The results were obviously not too good, but that's what we are here for."

Johnson's fastball sat at 91 mph, and he threw 12 of 22 pitches for strikes.

"Right now, everything feels fine. Like I told [pitching coach Rick Adair], I was like, 'It feels like I'm kind of pitching underwater. Kind of a slow motion.' It's not really that fast-twitch stuff yet, but that will come. For sure."

Johnson likely will take two days off and pitch again Saturday. His goal is to eventually pitch on consecutive days without pain.

"Back-to-back is important," Johnson said. "That will probably be one of the last progressions."

Appearances by Johnson and Markakis represent progress for the banged-up Orioles, but pitchers Zach Britton (shoulder), Tommy Hunter (back) and Tsuyoshi Wada (elbow) have yet to pitch in big league spring training games. And second baseman Brian Roberts (concussion) began live batting practice this week.

On Wednesday, though, the focus was on Johnson and Markakis, two of the club's most respected veterans.

"You know it will be a process. The same way with Zach and Tommy Hunter and Wada, they are all right there," Showalter said. "We have a lot of guys that are starting to get healthy."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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