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O's notes: Nick Markakis returns, bats leadoff for the first time

Right fielder hadn't hit in the top spot in any of his 996 previous games

By Peter Schmuck, The Baltimore Sun

7:59 PM EDT, July 13, 2012

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The Orioles are looking outside the organization for an on-base threat to increase production at the top of the lineup, but manager Buck Showalter obviously couldn't wait any longer for help in the leadoff spot.

That's why right fielder Nick Markakis has gone right from the disabled list into a slot in the batting order that he had never occupied in 996 previous major league games.

Obviously, drastic situations call for drastic measures. The club is batting a dismal .264 in the leadoff spot and ranks 26th in the majors with a .302 on-base percentage. Markakis has spent most of his career batting in the No. 3 hole, but he said he was fine with the change in job description.

"He [Showalter] pulled me aside yestderday and ran the idea by me and I told him, 'Whatever, do what you need to do,'" Markakis said. "He feels comfortable with it so I feel comfortable with it, so we'll roll with it."

Markakis grounded out to Detroit Tigers pitcher Doug Fister in his first at-bat Friday night, then hit an RBI double with two outs in the bottom of the third.

Markakis had been sidelined for six weeks following surgery to remove a broken hamate bone from his right wrist. Before Friday's game, he had not played in a major league game since May 29. Coming in, his .333 on-base percentage ranked second on the team to Mark Reynolds (.335).

"It was something that I had thought about seeing how we were constructed post-break,'' Showalter said. "One thing, it gives him another 30-50 at-bats a year, which he really liked, and it fits a lot better for us with the presentation you make to the other team's bullpen. It fits everybody else right now. It could change.

"I'm a big believer in the presentation you make. You'd like to stay with the same lineup the whole time, but a lot of things that have happened the first half with injuries and what have you, and we've had to move things around."

Looking ahead

Showalter held a workout Thursday at Camden Yards and talked to the team afterward about his expectations for the second half.

"I think everybody's on the same page about where we are and what has to happen," he said Friday. "I try not to state the obvious too much. They get it."

Though the Orioles have struggled in a number of areas over the past several weeks, Showalter remains positive about what the team has accomplished so far and is looking for ways to keep it moving the right direction. But he isn't making any predictions.

"We've got 77 games left,'' he said, "and I'm looking forward to finding out. Our guys in this organization have worked real hard to put themselves in the position to continue down this path, and I'm real proud of what they've done to put themselves in this position."

All-Star memories

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters was still glowing after his second appearance as an American League All-Star.

"It's always a great time,'' said Wieters, who was also an All-Star last year . "It's just a big party you want to go to halfway through the year. It was a great time for me the second time. I think every year you go back, you're still going to have a blast."

He caught four innings and got to hit twice, flying out both times. In his first at-bat, he pulled a ball deep to left field that looked like it might have a chance to go out, but not in spacious Kauffman Stadium.

"No, not in that park,'' Wieters said. "I knew I hit it a little too high in that park. I was hoping the wind would turn it around for me, but I was pretty sure that one was going to stay in the yard."

Wieters said that he particularly enjoyed catching teammate Jim Johnson, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning.

"It was cool,'' he said. "J.J. was the one guy who I didn't have to go out to the mound before they he started and say 'Hey, what do you got?' It was nice to get one of the four innings with somebody I know what they bring to the table. It was fun catching the other guys, but the comfort level with me and J.J. was up there."

Johnson agreed.

"That made things easier,'' he said. "I knew he was in the game, so I knew I didn't have much to worry about. It was cool also to have [Adam Jones] out there in center field — I looked out there and saw him. All the guys there, not just the guys we brought, all the guys were cool so it was a good time ... a good experience."

Getting a break

The Orioles who didn't go to Kansas City for the All-Star Gamegot a much-needed four-day vacation. That might not seem like much of a break during a 162-game season, but it's a big deal for a player such as J.J. Hardy, who has been struggling at the plate and playing through some nagging injuries.

"It helps a lot,'' Hardy said. "We get physically tired. I don't know how many days off we've had in the first 80 or 85 games, but people don't realize how mentally fatiqueing it is. I think more than physically, the mental break is the biggest thing for a lot of us. Me, definitely."

Hardy is one of the guys who also needed some time off to recuperate physically. He has been playing with a sore throwing shoulder for most of the season, but said it is feeling stronger following the four-day break.

"I feel like yesterday — at the little workout we had — my shoulder felt better,'' he said. "I'm hoping that it feels good the rest of the way."

Chavez activated

The Orioles have activated outfielder Endy Chavez from the disabled list. He had been sidelined with a hamstring strain. Still, Chris Davis started Friday night's game in left field, a position that he had never before played at the major league level. That's both a reflection of how much Chavez has struggled offensively this season and the Orioles' desperate need to restart their stalled offense.

The Orioles sent outfielder Xavier Avery down to Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday night to clear a roster spot.

Around the horn

Jim Palmer's sculpture will be unveiled behind center field Saturday during a ceremony that begins at 2:15 p.m… …The Orioles production department was recognized as the "Best Overall Video Display In Baseball" at the annual Information Display Entertainment Association Conference in Minneapolis earlier this week…Top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy will start Saturday at Grove Stadium in Frederick and the first 1,000 fans will get a Dylan Bundy T-shirt.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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