Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis has made enough progress in his recovery from abdominal surgery that he will make his first Grapefruit League appearance on Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Ed Smith Stadium.
The original plan called for Markakis to play in the last 10-12 exhibition games, so the Mar. 14 start is a modest acceleration of his rehabilitation program. He'll make his first start in the designated hitter slot and probably continue to DH for a few games before going out to right field.
Manager Buck Showalter made that announcement on Thursday morning, before the Orioles took the field for their exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves. The decision was made after a meeting involving Markakis, Showalter and the training staff to map out the remainder of his rehab program.
"I think that was my main purpose[Thursday] morning was to sit down with Buck and the trainers and figure out a schedule for the next couple weeks," Markakis said. "We got a schedule planned out with some openings here and there to plug in some [at-bats]or get in the outfield. It's the nice thing about having the minor league complex so close now. I can get over there and get some at-bats if I need them."
Markakis said that he didn't call a special meeting to get his timetable moved up. It was just time to resume the discussion about the progress he has been making. He's been taking full-tilt batting practice with his teammates and doing running drills with Brady Anderson for more than a week, so it made sense to start getting some at-bats against live pitching.
"Both sides knew [the meeting]was coming," Markakis said. "We just sat down and scheduled some things. It's pretty flexible right now."
Markakis first injured his abdomen on a stolen base attempt in Toronto on Sept. 9 and aggravated the injury making a spectacular diving catch on the final night of the regular season, when the Orioles knocked the Boston Red Sox out of the playoffs.
It was initially diagnosed as a deep bone bruise near his abdomen, since his belt buckle had dug deeply into his pelvic area on the stolen base attempt. The true nature of the injury didn't become apparent until persistent soreness in the offseason prompted a second MRI, which revealed significant damage to his abductor muscle and a tear in his rectis abdominis (six-pack muscle) as well as scar tissue that indicated an earlier injury.
Surgery was performed in January and Markakis originally was projected to be ready to play the final two weeks of the exhibition season. The March . 14 start date is not a drastic departure from that schedule, but Markakis clearly has been getting impatient with the club's conservative timetable.
"We scheduled it for the 14th because I feel like I just need another week where I need to be," he said, "but everything's going great. I feel great. I did some real heavy baserunning [Wednesday]and it went great. I didn't feel anything and it's been good."
The next step would be moving back to the outfield, which Markakis indicated would come fairly soon after he gets some DH at-bats.
"I'd like to get a couple games at DH first before I go out there," he said. "I've been doing a lot of shagging in BP (batting practice), taking some balls live off the bat and switching directions. Everything feels great so far."
It's still a work in progress. If Markakis was able to do everything he needs to do right now, he'd be out there tomorrow, but he said that he's confident he'll be ready to take the next big step in his program on Wednesday.
"I think it's just a lot of little things," he said. "I've been working on my baserunning a lot. I've been in the weight room a lot -- just a lot of little things that add up to the big things, and just trying to get a strong foundation right now and go from there."
Markakis and long-time teammate Brian Roberts have both been forced to take things very slow this spring. Roberts remains on a very deliberate program to return from the lingering effects of a pair of concussions. He said this week that he is making progress, but still cannot project when he might be ready to play in a spring game — if at all.