Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis’ broke his left thumb in the fifth inning of Saturday’s 5-4 win against the New York Yankees and is lost for at least six weeks, putting the club’s leadoff hitter and most tenured player out for the rest of the regular season and a chunk of the potential postseason.
“The timing sucks. The timing definitely sucks but we got a great group of guys. They are going to battle through this,” Markakis said. “I’ll be here for them and I’ll be supporting them. I’ll be with them and I’ll be rooting for them.”
Markakis was struck in the left hand by a 93-mph fastball from CC Sabathia with two outs in the fifth. The pitch appeared to snap his left thumb backward.
“I knew it was broken. I knew it as soon as he hit it,” Markakis said, who vigorously shook his hand after the impact. “I knew how it hit me and I couldn’t bend my thumb.”
After being quickly examined on the field, Markakis left the game for pinch-runner Nate McLouth.
“I'm sure you guys that have been around Nicky know when he comes out of a game that quick, it's not good,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “It breaks my heart personally, and for him. I know how much this time of the season means to him. We'll go forward from there.”
Arguably the club’s most durable player in the last few years — he played 157 or more games in each season from 2007 to 2011 — Markakis has had an uncharacteristically unhealthy year. He had abdomen surgery in January for an injury he suffered at the end of the 2011 season. He made it back for Opening Day, but was lost again for six weeks when he had surgery June 1 to remove a broken hamate bone in his right wrist.
“I’ve had a pretty banged up 2012. Never broken a bone, no surgeries or nothing,” he said. “I’ve got two surgeries and two broken bones in one season. That’s how it goes. I’ll move on and I’ll get better as quick as I can.”
Showalter said preliminary X-Rays showed the break, but Markakis will be further examined before a true timetable is known. Six weeks out, Showalter said is likely the minimum.
“We're hoping that there's not going to have to be another surgery,” Showalter said. “Nicky had some stuff with his abdomen in the offseason and had a hamate, so the last thing I want him to go through or any of our guys is a third surgery. We're hoping for good news for him personally in the next day or two.”
Markakis, 28, returned from the wrist injury for the first game after the All-Star break, on July 13, and was inserted into the leadoff spot for the first time in his pro career. He has flourished since, batting .335 with five homers and 28 RBIs in 54 second-half games.
For the season, Markakis is hitting .298 with 13 homers, 54 RBIs and 59 runs scored in 104 games.
If sidelined for a lengthy period of time, the Orioles would have to find a new leadoff hitter as well as someone to replace Markakis’ Gold Glove defense in right.
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McLouth could be pushed into both roles, moving from left to right and hitting first instead of third, where he primarily has been since his call-up from Triple-A Norfolk on Aug. 4. He has hit leadoff in 281 career big-league games, posting a .253 average and .340 on-base percentage in those contests.
Lew Ford, who homered Saturday, and rookie Xavier Avery could take over left field duties if McLouth is moved to right. Showalter said it was too early for him to speculate on who will play or bat where.
“We just got through with a tough ballgame,” he said. “I'm going to start shuffling the (lineup) cards down there a little bit.”
Showalter said he is optimistic that the Orioles will be able to handle the blow and continue to win.
“I've said all along injuries are part of our game,” he said. “You hate to see it happen like that. It's one of those things that, we've been a sum of the parts team all year and we certainly lost a big part tonight, but we'll kind of reorganize or reassess where we are and see what we can do. If I know this club and this group, someone will step forward, just like Lew Ford did tonight.”