For most of the past two decades, the Orioles have always been able to field a consistent, prototypical leadoff hitter in their lineup, first with Brady Anderson and then Brian Roberts.
The two have combined to start more than 2000 games at the top of the order, and both were able to put above-average numbers for the majority of their careers, continuing a tradition of longtime, successful leadoff hitters in Baltimore that also includes Paul Blair and Al Bumbry.
This season, however, the Orioles have had a carousel of players batting first as Roberts is in the midst of his third consecutive injury-plagued year. They've struggled to find a productive player who can get on base, set the table for the rest of the lineup and, most important, stay healthy.
Nick Markakis has always been envisioned as a No. 2 or No. 3 hitter, and that's where he has made the majority of his starts throughout his seven-year career. More than 85 percent of the left-handed hitter's career starts have been either hitting second or third in the lineup
Baltimore's latest No. 1 batter, though, has shown that he may be the best option for the job out of the players on the Orioles' current roster.
Markakis was activated from the disabled list on July 13, and that night made his debut as a leadoff hitter.
"It was something that I had thought about, seeing about how we were going to be constructed post-break," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said during his pre-game press conference on July 13. "One thing, it hopefully gives him another 30-50 at-bats on the year, which he really liked."
In his week as a leadoff hitter, Markakis reached base in six of seven games heading into this weekend's series in Cleveland. He had three 3-hit games and was batting .387 with a .441 on-base percentage and five runs scored.
"A lot of things have happened this first half with injuries and what have you, that we've had to move things around," Showalter said. "You take your best hitters and try to get them to the plate as much as possible and you throw the batting order out the window."
Although Markakis lacks the speed of a prototypical leadoff hitter, he has shown throughout his career that he can get on base. Since becoming an everyday player in 2007, Markakis has finished in the top three in on-base percentage on the Orioles, and led the team three of those five seasons. Markakis' .406 OBP in 2008 was ninth-best in the majors, and third-best in the American League.
Markakis is the seventh different Orioles player to bat leadoff this season, joining Roberts, Nolan Reimold, Robert Andino, Xavier Avery, Ryan Flaherty and Endy Chavez. Five of the seven have had extended stints on the DL.
Although Markakis may never be viewed as a true leadoff hitter, he has done better than any other Orioles player in the role this season.
"You look at the way we old-timers look at conventional leadoff hitters, that we all grew up with and whatever. How many of those guys are really in the game anymore?" Showalter said. "Going around the minor leagues and looking, and looking at other clubs, how many true leadoff hitters are there in the game, the way that we perceive them? They're hard to find."
Showalter acknowledged the fact that Markakis may not be the permanent solution in No. 1 hole looking ahead, but for now, the seven-year veteran has been a more than adequate replacement in a role that Baltimore has lacked most of the season.
"I think he really liked the idea of getting a few more at-bats, so he could catch up a little bit," Showalter said. "As always with Nick, [it's] whatever the club needs."