ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- After batting .300 last season with 23 home runs and 112 RBIs, Nick Markakis figured there would be times this season when the opposition would pitch around him. He just didn't expect it to be happening this soon.
Without Miguel Tejada hitting behind him, Markakis entered yesterday with 10 walks in as many games, one off the American League lead. Six of them came in the previous three games. Kevin Millar, who has the job of protecting Markakis in the cleanup spot, went just 3-for-22 over his past six games.
"I've noticed it a little bit," said Markakis, who had walked five times through 10 games last season. "I really haven't been getting much to hit."
Markakis, who said he has been a slow starter at every level, entered last night's game with a .333 average. However, he had only two RBIs, tying him for eighth on the team. Only two of Markakis' 11 hits had gone for extra bases, and both were doubles.
It's not that there's been anything wrong with Markakis' swing or approach. Pitchers have just mostly avoided challenging him with runners on base, choosing to go after Millar or Aubrey Huff. In 10 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Markakis is 3-for-7 with three singles and three walks.
"I see teams not giving him as many fastballs, but what I see Nick doing is making some tremendous adjustments and hitting a lot of balls to left field because they're pitching him away," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "I think the secret is out that he's a pretty good hitter."
Markakis said he has no problem taking his walks.
"I'm seeing a lot more of 3-1, 3-2 off-speed pitches, but that's how it's going to go," he said. "I don't mind. I'll take the walks all day long and give more opportunities for guys like Millar and Huff to drive in runs."
Albers gets start
Trembley made it official last night, announcing that Matt Albers, who has pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen, will start tomorrow against the Toronto Blue Jays. Trembley didn't want to bring either Steve Trachsel or Adam Loewen, both of whom started in Thursday's doubleheader, back on three days' rest.
"I've seen [Albers] attack hitters, have movement and a very good breaking ball," said Trembley, who will watch Albers closely because he hasn't thrown more than 44 pitches in any of his three outings. "He had 18 starts in the big leagues last year, we're playing Toronto, primarily a right-handed hitting club, so let's give him a chance to see how he does."
Jim Johnson, who was called up from Triple-A Norfolk after the series opener here, will fill Albers' long-relief role. It's Johnson's third stint with the Orioles, though he has logged only five major league innings.
Infielder Scott Moore was optioned to Norfolk to accommodate Johnson, leaving Trembley with a three-man bench. The manager isn't sure how long he'll stay with the arrangement, but he needed an extra arm, and Moore wasn't getting enough at-bats.
"I honestly believe, and I told Scott this, that he'll be a regular in the big leagues," Trembley said. "But it's not happening right now."
Trembley acknowledged after Friday night's 10-5 loss that he might have asked "a little too much" from reliever Dennis Sarfate. The 27-year-old, who had allowed one base runner in 3 2/3 innings entering the game, came unglued, surrendering a hit, four walks, a hit batsman and three earned runs. He threw 41 pitches, only 19 for strikes.
Sarfate had only thrown 52 pitches combined in his first four outings this season.
"Obviously, it looked like he was trying to strike people out instead of get people out," Trembley said. "That's a lesson that he'll learn and get better because of it."