Leadoff spot bringing out best in Markakis

Leadoff spot bringing out best in Markakis

ST. PETERSBURG -- Nick Markakis has been on fire in his first stint as the Orioles' leadoff hitter, entering Saturday with a .359 average, six doubles, two homers, 15 runs scored and five RBIs in 21 games since returning from the disabled list and moving atop the order.

The right fielder didn't slow down on Saturday, drawing a nine-pitch walk against Jeremy Hellickson to open the game before scoring on a Matt Wieters single. The next inning, Markakis' two-out single plated Nate McLouth to put Baltimore up, 2-0, and he drew his second walk of the game in the top of the fourth.

It's been impressive, particularly considering Markakis -- who had surgery in late May to remove a broken portion of the hamate bone in his right wrist -- still isn't 100 percent.

"It definitely doesn't feel normal," Markakis said of his wrist, which forced him to the DL for the first time in his career. "But we knew that going into the surgery, and post-surgery, [I'm] probably going to feel some soreness and tightness the rest of the year. But, it's good, and I'm getting my strength back there."

Markakis said he hasn't changed his approach since moving into the leadoff spot, but he has been more aggressive, which is something he wanted to do regardless of where he hits. The 28-year-old Markakis has raised his average more than 30 points since returning and said he doesn't care where he is in the order, with opposing pitchers' approach against him the same regardless.

"There's a lot of different ways to look at leadoff," manager Buck Showalter said. "I just told Nick to be himself. I don't want him to start flaring balls. If Nick gets a good pitch to handle, he's going to turn on it. I don't want him to be anything but him. I think he's handled it well.

"I actually thought a little bit today about moving him out of there because Nate has had a lot of experience leading off, but I want him to get his feet on the ground a little bit, not throw too much at him early on. I really like what Nick's doing for us, leading off."

McLouth made his Orioles debut on Saturday night from the seven-hole, and should Showalter test the veteran outfielder at leadoff, Markakis would likely slide back to second, where he has 1,188 career at-bats.