Orioles Notebook: Strong performance for Markakis

BALTIMORE - Nick Markakis hadn't so much as been on the disabled list over his first six seasons in the majors, and on Jan. 5, there he was going under the knife for surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle.

Even a few weeks after the procedure, the Baltimore Orioles right fielder held that he wasn't concerned that he'd miss Opening Day.

And after his first abbreviated spring training, Markakis was right in his customary outfield spot and batting third in Friday's opener.

Before the game, Markakis said he was always sure he wouldn't be on the shelf to start 2012.

"I didn't have that anywhere in my thought process. You can't think like that," he said. "I had positive thoughts and I had confidence in our training staff and our coaching staff, their ability to get me back to where I need to be and where I am today, where I want to be."

Those feelings were validated by his performance at the pate, where he recorded two hits - a triple and a homer - and three RBIs. He also came away from a hard slide to the plate unscathed.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he looked away during the slide, but Markakis hopped up fine.

"Hopefully it's all behind me. That's what spring training's for," Markakis said. "I got my work in. I was in the back fields sliding. Everything felt good. It was just getting in the game, getting in the game situation."

Markakis, who has averaged 160 games over the past five years, played just eight games during the spring and batted .250 with two homers and three RBIs.

Despite his limited activity in the offseason and in Sarasota, Fla., he seemed upbeat about his physical shape in comparison to where he was last year.

"I feel close," he said. "Obviously there are some things down there that I could tell I had surgery but that is going to take a while to get out of there. But I am pain free and I feel pretty flexible and I am pretty excited where I am right now."

Showalter might not have been thrilled that Markakis' surgery took place less than two months before reporting to Sarasota.

He could tell that the right fielder was a little uneasy about his health over the first week to 10 days of spring training. But like Markakis, Showalter had little doubt that the team's highest-paid player would be ready in time for Friday.

"It was just uncharted territory for him, going down that long of a period," Showalter said. "Maybe with somebody else I might've been more concerned.

"It was very tempting for me to push the schedule up a couple times. It's hard to fight that lure. I saw a nice day and, 'It would be a good day for him to DH here. He can catch up.' Every time, I just kind of said, 'You know what? Let's trust it.' And I'm glad I did."

OPTIMISM FOR ROBERTS: While Brian Roberts opens the year on the DL as he still experiences concussion symptoms, there are reasons to be hopeful the second baseman will play for the Orioles this year.

For one, he came north with the team when it broke camp. Also, he was put on the 15-day DL instead of the 60-day.

Before Friday's game, Showalter expressed hope that the team will have its leadoff hitter back in the not-too-distant future.

"I've always been optimistic about that for the most part. Just like him, probably some days more than others," he said. "I think we all know what it would mean to our club if he could come back and play like Brian's capable.

"I've got an idea in the back of my head, talking to him about dates and stuff. But I don't want him thinking, 'If I'm not doing X on X date that something's wrong or bad.' I just want him when he gets back to be right."

IT'S OFFICIAL: Showalter hadn't officially named Baltimore's closer from his collection of late-inning relievers... until Friday.

Before the game, the manager confirmed what had long been assumed, that Jim Johnson is handling the ninth inning.

Showalter informed the big right-hander in response to a text about Johnson's new baby boy.

"I said, 'Congratulations. And by the way, you're closing.' And he said, 'Yeah, I know,'" Showalter said. "It won't be an easy job. He'll have some times where he won't be aesthetically pleasing or whatever you want to call it, but Jimmy showed us last year that he's capable of doing it."

Johnson recorded the last two outs for the save Friday.

Kevin Gregg, who was signed to be the closer before the 2011 season, is slated to be used in a variety of roles, including late in games.

GOLD GLOVES: Catcher Matt Wieters and right fielder Markakis were presented with their 2011 Gold Glove Awards before the game.