"I think the one thing it's allowed me to do is be a little more aggressive in the leadoff spot," he said. "But you know it is just another spot in the lineup. Once you lead off the game, the leadoff spot is pretty much over."

But what a first at-bat it has been for Markakis. He is hitting .400 with a .462 on-base percentage in the first at-bat of those 39 games. He has 11 singles, three doubles, four walks and just one strikeout.

"Why wouldn't he be good at leadoff?" Brady Anderson, special assistant to Duquette, asks rhetorically. "He has no weakness as a hitter — more than any other player on our team. He is one of those hitters that, really, there is no place in the lineup he couldn't hit. But he is very well suited for leadoff."

Anderson should know. A three-time All-Star who played most of his 15 big league seasons with the Orioles, Anderson is arguably the greatest leadoff hitter in franchise history. A power and speed threat, he holds the franchise's records for homers in a season and stolen bases in a career.

If there's one knock on Markakis so far as a leadoff hitter, it's that he hasn't stolen any bases (he has one this year, and that was while batting third). Base-stealing threats put extra pressure on opposing pitchers, especially early in the game, but Anderson doesn't think that is a major deficiency for Markakis, whose career high for stolen bases in a season was 18 in 2007.

Heading into Thursday's play, only five major leaguers have stolen 30 or more bases this season.

"There are only a few true basestealers in the whole league, on either side, and Nick certainly isn't slow," Anderson said. "He has good baserunning instincts. He doesn't steal bases, or he hasn't this year, but he is not slow on the basepaths."

Markakis said he's not going to suddenly attempt to steal just because that's expected protocol for a leadoff hitter

"That's something you need to work on in spring training. It's all about a comfort level," Markakis said. "Knowing when to go and knowing when you can't go. But right now I'm not going to change anything. I've got a good group of guys hitting behind me. If I hit a double, I am going to score almost 100 percent of the time with those guys behind me."

Markakis said he's not looking at this as a temporary assignment or as a possibility for the future. He's just filling the void until he is told he is needed elsewhere. And if it's decided that he is the best fit at leadoff long-term, he's fine with that.

"I'm here for as long as my name is in that lineup. I am here for whatever," he said. "That's ultimately out of my hands."

As for the man whose hands the decision is in, Showalter said simply that Markakis is currently the best option to start things off for the Orioles' offense.

"I play with lineups, batting orders, all the time. Right now, I am taking it day-to-day, see what tomorrow brings, Showalter said. "It's hard to mess with Nicky much right now."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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