By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun
5:12 PM PDT, July 19, 2012
MINNEAPOLIS — The Orioles' experiment batting right fielder Nick Markakis in the leadoff spot is paying off.
Markakis began hitting leadoff in the Orioles' first game after the All-Star break. In seven games since moving there, Markakis is batting .387 (12-for-31). He was 1-for-5 with an RBI in Thursday's 4-3 win over the Twins.
"It's something I always had in the back of my head," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I think Nicky's capable of hitting just about anywhere in the order. But it really got his attention when I told him he could get another 50 at-bats, he was all for that. ... I wish we'd do a little better job in the 8 and 9 hole, make his spot even more valuable."
In just a week, Markakis has improved his batting average from .256 to .274. He's also had three three-hit games since moving to the leadoff spot. He had just four three-hit games in his first 50 games, when he was exclusively batting third in the lineup.
Markakis said he's grown to enjoy hitting leadoff.
"I like it," Markakis said. "I feel pretty comfortable up there. It's just another spot in the lineup. It's an important spot, though. I just try to get on any way I can and let the guys behind me bring me in. Just try not to put too much pressure on myself. I'm just trying to go out there and get great at-bats."
But, as Showalter mentioned, the Orioles haven't fully capitalized on Markakis' surge at the plate because of a lack of production in the bottom of the order. The No. 8 and 9 hitters are batting .182 (8-for-44) since the break, meaning he hasn't often batted with runners on base.
Markakis still said the right wrist that put him on the disabled list is still sore, but it's something he's learning to adjust to.
After striking out in his last at-bat Wednesday, Markakis looked at his right hand. (He had surgery to remove a fractured piece of the hamate bone in that wrist in June.) He said he was actually looking at his batting glove, which was wet, causing his hand to slip off the bat handle as he was swinging.
"My wrist is fine," Markakis said. "It's just something I've got to get through. Just a little bit of soreness. It's not holding me back from doing anything. The last at-bat was a frustrating at-bat but you know, everything's good."
Hunter earns another start
Right-hander Tommy Hunter's performance Wednesday night, in which he allowed just one run over 7 1/3 innings, earned him at least one more start in the Orioles' rotation. He'll start Monday's series finale in Cleveland.
"Tommy will make his start in four days and we'll see where it takes us," Showalter said. "One thing about Tommy ... you may not like it statistically, but Tommy competes. Here's mine, let's see what you've got. It's not like every time he's cocked his arm this year he's had a bad outing. The good ones have been really good and the bad ones have not. There's not much in between. We seem to follow him on the mound. His tempo is good. He's usually a strike-thrower. I thought he was pretty consistent with his fastball command last night. That's what it all revolves around."
Showalter said he'd like to see some of the Orioles' other young pitchers take note of Hunter's assertiveness on the mound and his ability to throw his fastball with confidence.
"Very seldom is Tommy going to have to go back to the hotel or apartment and say, 'Gee, I wish I had been more aggressive or competitive,'" Showalter said. "That's why I keep telling these guys. Let it rip. Don't ever hesitate and go back and think, 'Gee, I wish I hadn't been so timid in my approach and given the other team so much credit.'
"I hope it does [rub off] a little bit to some of the other starters," he added. "A fastball in a fastball count, so what? Here it is. I think the ability to get back into a count when a pitcher is 2-0 and locate a fastball down and away is one common denominator of good starting pitchers."
Around the horn
The Orioles have been held to single-digit hit totals in 24 of their last 29 games. … With a 1-for-4 afternoon, center fielder Adam Jones was 7-for-17 (a .411 average) in the four-game series against the Twins with one triple, two homers and five RBIs. He batted .379 (11-for-29) this season against the Twins. … The Orioles have scored three or fewer runs in nine of Wei-Yin Chen's 12 starts. … Chris Davis' error in left field, in which he dropped a routine fly ball, was his first as an outfielder. ... Double-A Bowie made four roster moves Thursday, adding C Caleb Joseph from Triple-A Norfolk and INF Aaron Baker from High-A Frederick and sending INF Michael Rooney and C Allan de San Miguel down to Frederick.
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