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Markakis' Bat Heats Up

August 8, 2006
By Craig Heist

Orioles' right fielder Nick Markakis entered this week hitting a very strong .292 with four home runs and 32 RBIs. Three months ago, those stats seemed unattainable for the rookie.

Markakis surprised everyone, making the club out of spring training after hitting .358 in 28 exhibition games. Not bad for someone whose highest level of minor league action came at Double-A Bowie last year.


Nick Markakis hit .338 in June and then a whopping .403 in July. (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
Despite his hot spring, Markakis struggled at the beginning of the season. He homered in his second game of the season against the Devil Rays but went on to hit just .182 for the month of April. He was hitting .198 in early May and the organization considered sending him back to the minor leagues.

"We had some discussions about it," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We weren't close but we had said if we can't get Nick going in the next three weeks, it was possible, but it wasn't imminent. The thinking was always in the kid's best interest."

It's a good thing the Orioles were patient.

With the help of hitting coach Terry Crowley and some encouragement from his teammates, Markakis raised his average to .219 by the end of May. He hit .338 in June and then a whopping .403 in July.

"Definitely, it was tough on me," Markakis said. "It's a totally different situation for me now with the way I am going than at the beginning of the year. I didn't have that comfort level that I do now, so it made it difficult."

Markakis has been a tireless worker, spending hours in the cage trying to perfect his craft. He said his time with Crowley and his work ethic are the major reasons for the turnaround.


"You know what they say, hard work pays off," Markakis said.          (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
"It's a mixture of everything," Markakis said. "Obviously, I feel a lot more comfortable up here and Crow's been busting my butt ever since day one and you know, when you have the comfort level there and the support behind you, it makes things a lot easier."

Markakis got his chance to stay with the big club because of injuries to David Newhan, Jay Gibbons and the struggles and eventual release of Luis Matos. The on-the-job training at the major league level is something many young players don't get the chance to experience. The 22-year-old outfielder is grateful to have been given the chance.

"It's a different level of competition up here," Markakis said. "It's the best you are going to find around and it just took a little bit of time to get adjusted to it. If you can have on-the-job training, what better place to have it than up here at this level? Best coaches, best players, best teammates. That all played a factor in getting my comfort level up there."

Markakis has been hitting ninth, with the exception of two games against the Yankees this past weekend in which he batted eighth, and manager Sam Perlozzo is exploring the possibility of moving his rookie up in the lineup more often.

"I'd like to see him get out of the nine hole for more than one reason," Perlozzo said. "One, because he is swinging the bat and two, it would be nice to have a right-hander down in that [ninth] spot to face him and then Brian Roberts. And then sometimes it's Brandon [Fahey] right in line and you have to sit with it until late in the game. With the way we are made up, there is not really anyone else to put down there. We have no real right-handed bats to put in the nine hole."

Wherever he bats the rest of the season, Markakis has learned one very valuable lesson that will stick with him throughout his career.

"You know what they say, hard work pays off," Markakis said. "Getting here early, getting the work done, listening to your coaches, listening to your teammates, it all plays a big factor in it."

YANKEES STING RAY--AGAIN

Last Friday, The Orioles had battled back to tie the game at 4-4 when Jorge Posada hit a solo home run off Chris Ray to win the game for the Yankees. Ray is now 0-3 this year against the Bronx Bombers, giving up three runs in four innings.

Ray didn't fool anyone in the ninth inning as Jason Giambi hit a bullet to Brian Roberts in shallow right field before the Posada homer.

"It was a pitch that was supposed to be down and away but I left it over the middle and he did what he was supposed to do with it," Ray said.

THE FUTURE BEATS THE PAST

The next day, rookie left-hander Adam Loewen turned in a fabulous performance, shutting out the Yankees on just one hit and striking out eight in 6.1 innings as the Orioles beat the Yanks 5-0.

Loewen lowered his ERA from 6.44 to 5.72, beating former Oriole Mike Mussina, making it the biggest win yet of Loewen's young career.

"I don't think I've ever pitched like that in my career, especially against such a great team," Loewen said. "It feels good to get that out of the way, but hopefully there's a lot more to come."

Perlozzo and the Orioles believe they got a glimpse of what is in store for Loewen down the road.

"We're sitting there with a youngster that just keeps getting a little bit better," Perlozzo said. "Little baby steps. I like his makeup for the future."

The Orioles snapped Mussina’s five-game winning streak, forcing him to throw 42 pitches in the second inning while scoring three runs.

"Today wasn't an easy day," Mussina said. "I didn't feel like I had anything to go to. I had trouble with the strike zone and it just wasn't a lot of fun trying to pitch today. Their guy had a lot of fun pitching and we just couldn't get anything going."

STRUGGLING TO WIN

As of last weekend, the Orioles are 1-5-1 in series since the All Star break with the lone series win coming against the Kansas City Royals. Despite challenging good teams like the White Sox, Rangers and Yankees, the Orioles just can't seem to get over the hump.

"Our pitching has been in flux a little bit where we haven't been able to get into a set rotation," Perlozzo said. "We have been beat up in the pen but I think it is settling down a bit, guys are playing hard and once we get this thing straightened out, I think the wins will start coming."

HERNANDEZ STRUGGLES

Catcher Ramon Hernandez was hitting over .300 in early June but has since watched his average dip to .261 heading into this week. Hernandez hit .188 in July and has hit just .203 since the All-Star break, leaving some people asking if he has been over-used.

"I am not going to use that as an excuse," Hernandez said. "I know what responsibility is and I don't blame it on anything. Every time I get an at-bat, I try to see the ball and hit the ball hard and I don't feel comfortable at all. I will keep working the same now as when I was hitting good earlier in the season. I am just struggling right now. Take it for what it is. If you keep working hard, you will get good results either now or later on."

Issue 1.16: August 10, 2006