Orioles manager Buck Showalter received a text message from former player Nick Markakis on his comments about his neck in USA Today. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)
SARASOTA, FLA. — Before his departure for the Atlanta Braves, Nick Markakis was one of the Orioles' most respected players because of the way he let his play on the field speak for him.
Usually quiet and reserved, Markakis — who signed a four-year contract with the Braves in the offseason after the Orioles were concerned about the risk of a lengthy deal because of a bulging disk in his neck — had some harsh words this week about his departure from Baltimore.
"Don't believe a word they say," Markakis told USA Today on Wednesday. "It was all because of my neck. They can say what they want to make them look good. It's all B.S. … But things work out the way they do for a reason, right?"
On Thursday, Markakis told Mid-Atlantic Sports Network that he regretted the comments. "I was just tired of hearing the same B.S. and I spoke what was on my mind at the time," Markakis said. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful Thursday.
There was no secret Markakis wanted to remain with the Orioles after being a fixture in right field for the past nine seasons. Shortly after signing with Atlanta, Markakis had surgery. After an MRI , the Orioles had concerns about the disk over the course of a four-year deal, according to sources.
Since Markakis' comments came out, he spoke to manager Buck Showalter and center fielder Adam Jones. Showalter said Markakis' comments were "not a subject matter or a topic [here]."
"Obviously, we wanted Nick back and we made an offer. We couldn't match the offer that Atlanta did, so he went there," Showalter said. "I shouldn't say couldn't. I should say wouldn't. I think everybody here wishes him well and likes him. We're lucky to have had him pass our way for an extended period of time. I probably would have done the same thing he did, and he would have probably done the same thing we did."
Jones and Markakis are friends and keep in contact. Jones said Thursday that he talked to Markakis on Wednesday.
"I'm glad he said something because he never says anything," Jones said. "He should say something. He has a lot on his mind. He's a very articulate man, a very smart man. He doesn't say a lot, but when he does, people listen and it got people's attention. That's why you all are in front of me now."
The Orioles' silence on the matter could have helped Markakis, because the injury might have scared other teams away from a multiyear offer. Federal laws also limit what teams can say officially about players, especially free agents.
"If [the neck] is the real reason he's not here, I hope someone can man up and say it," Jones said. "Let's say it when everybody wants to know then and now. It always comes out later.
"That's just how this game is. But oh, well. We've got to defend the [American League] East. Markakis is in Atlanta, going to try and win the NL East. So, hopefully, we see each other at the end."
Showalter emphasized that the Orioles wanted Markakis to return, but that the team wasn't comfortable matching the length of the offer the Braves made.
"You have to keep in mind that Nick wanted to come back," Showalter said. "He's good people. He did good things for us. And if you look at the context of why, you want to play with your team. It can't be a bad thing, can it? And we wanted him by the example of the offer."
Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez will start the Orioles' Grapefruit League opener Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Showalter announced.
Jimenez, who was 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA last season in his first year of a four-year, $50 million deal, likely would pitch two innings in the spring debut.
"I'm pretty excited to get a fresh start," Jimenez said. "Last year was really tough, and this is the beginning of 2015, and I'm excited to be part of the first game."
Showalter said Jimenez starting the first spring game would put him in line to make several appearances on the road. Last year, Jimenez made just one of his four spring training starts away from Sarasota.
"It's part of the game," Jimenez said. "Last year, I only pitched one road game, but if that's the way it has to go down, I'll take it. It's baseball. You have to get ready for everything."
Jimenez hopes the success he saw after a late-season tweak to his delivery -- he no longer puts his hands over and behind his head from the windup -- can carry over into this season. He's excited to be the first pitcher to get the ball in a spring game.
"When you get here the first couple days, you want to get ready," Jimenez said. "But after about a week, you want to start playing right away because spring training is a little bit, kind of boring, because you want to start playing right away.
"I'm pretty much going to do what I have done in all of my spring trainings and that's getting myself ready for the season. It's not like you go out there and want people to score on you. No, you're trying to make your pitches and get ready for the season."
Hitting the stadium
The Orioles will play only one intrasquad game prior to the Grapefruit League schedule. That game will be played Sunday on the Ed Smith Stadium main field.
"Kind of a dry run, get a few kinks out over there," Showalter said.
The team planned on playing intrasquad games Sunday and Monday in advance of Tuesday's Grapefruit League opener against the Tigers in Lakeland, but decided to have just one game because they'll need to fill innings for split-squad games Thursday, when they play the Tampa Bay Rays on the road in the afternoon and host the Toronto Blue Jays at home at night.
Showalter said the team also will utilize the main stadium field Saturday and use the sound system to pump in crowd noise while practicing fly-ball calls. Showalter said the crowd noise was recorded from last year's postseason games.
"There are so many down here that you can do with nobody around and it works, but in reality, it doesn't play in the big leagues," Showalter said. "There were periods during the playoffs last year when I could barely talk to [bench coach] John [Russell in the dugout]."
Around the horn
Infielder Everth Cabrera took grounders at second base Thursday. Showalter said he would likely work Friday at third base, where he has made only one appearance in his major league career. He took grounders at shortstop, his natural position, in his first workout Wednesday. Showalter added that he expects to give Cabrera some practice time in the outfield as well. … Steve Pearce and Chris Parmelee, who have done defensive work at first base the first two days of camp, will mostly stick to the outfield in the coming days. … Showalter said that, in addition to Manny Machado and Matt Wieters playing in more games on the road this spring, first baseman Chris Davis likely will play in more games away from Sarasota this spring. Davis could potentially see some time at third base or in the corner outfield spots this spring. … Wieters will catch in Tuesday's intrasquad game, but he won't throw.