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Analysis: Markakis quickly, quietly moving up O's lists

BALTIMORE - Nick Markakis may not be the type of player that garners a lot of attention, but the right fielder is quickly moving up the Baltimore Orioles' all-time hit list.

On Friday night, Markakis went 4 for 5 with a double and a trio of singles to pass Paul Blair for eighth on the list. Soon, he will be passing Brian Roberts.

And if Markakis plays long enough, it's not out of the question that he could end up in the top five.

This season, the 30-year-old has excelled as the Orioles' leadoff hitter. He is hitting .299 in 47 games this season and has batted .298 in 41 games in the leadoff spot.

Markakis has also hit exceptionally well early in games. He has gone 20 for 46 (a .435 average) in the first inning and 17 for 40 (.425) when he is the first Baltimore batter of the game.

"We always joke after his first at bat, 'What happened? Oh, he led off the game with a hit, weird,'" Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis said. "I feel like every time I look up the guy is on base."

That may be because Markakis has been on base more times than any other Orioles player this season, leading the team with 59 hits. His .352 on-base percentage ranks third on the team. It's not atypical for Markakis, who is a career .293 hitter and has hit below .284 in a season just once in his career (2013 when he hit .271).

But Markakis takes some criticism from fans because he never became the power hitter many expected him to be after hitting 23 home runs and driving in 112 runs in 2007, his second season. In fact, last season was Markakis' worst statistically.

In addition to hitting a career-low .271, he hit just 10 home runs, another career-low, and drove in 59 runs. The RBI total was the second-worst of his career behind just 2012 when he drove in 54 but also missed 58 games due to injury.

Baltimore manager Buck Showalter has praised Markakis' ability to not only hit well, but to do so at any spot in the batting order.

"He's so consistent, everything that he does," Showalter said. "I don't think he feels the pressure to do things from the leadoff spot that he might feel in other places."

Other reasons Showalter is so impressed with Markakis is because of the right-fielder's ability to hit both right-handed and left-handed pitching, as well as his stellar defense.

This season, Markakis is hitting .309 against righties and .296 against lefties.

"The thing that separates him from so many left-handed hitters is he doesn't give on left-handers," Showalter said. "You never feel like the pitcher really has an advantage because of his approach."

Markakis' defense is the one part of his game that has been recognized nationally, as he won a Gold Glove award in 2011.

But this season, Markakis has also returned to being a major contributor with his bat, quietly putting together a strong season at the plate in the final year of contract.

"It's an honor to watch him play every night," Showalter said. "It's hard to do what he does every day."

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