Markakis finds groove in time

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Hot spell calms fears that rookie not ready for majors

Patterson sits

July 03, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

ATLANTA -- The Orioles waited three months for Nick Markakis to morph into the player they saw in spring training. They watched him closely and with extreme patience, wondering when the player who sent line drives all over Grapefruit League stadiums would emerge.

After finishing April with a .182 batting average, Markakis, 22, made some strides in May, hitting 72 points higher than he did in his first month in the major leagues. Last month, he hit .338 and improved his slugging and on-base percentages significantly. In his first game of July, Markakis was 4-for-5 in the Orioles' 7-4 win on Saturday, improving to 7-for-8 in the series. He went 1-for-4 yesterday with a single, leaving his average at .270, 42 points higher than it was June 22.

"That's kind of the way he hit the ball all spring," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said after Saturday's game. "He kept getting hits all spring. We felt like he was swinging the bat good in batting practice and that sooner or later it would transfer to the game. Hopefully we've got him on a roll."

Markakis agreed, crediting the extra batting practice he has been taking under the eye of hitting coach Terry Crowley for his recent success.

"I'm staying back on the ball," the rookie said. "[I've been] working every day with Terry Crowley, and I've got to give him all the credit in the world for helping me out. I am just trying to get better swings on the ball and be more aggressive. Things are working out good."

The hot streak - Markakis is 12-for-19 over his past five games - couldn't have come at a better time. Perlozzo acknowledged that if Markakis hadn't shown signs of breaking out by the All-Star break, his spot with the Orioles could have been in "jeopardy." Now, Perlozzo is hoping that the corner outfielder can show a little more pop in his bat. Markakis has two home runs, but none since April 14.

"You know, that's the last thing on my mind right now," Markakis said. "The last thing I need to do is to go up there and think about hitting home runs all the time. I just need to go up there and concentrate on putting good swings on the ball. Somewhere along the line, home runs will come."

Patterson sidelined

Center fielder Corey Patterson was not in the Orioles' starting lineup yesterday for the first time since May 7, a span of 48 games. Patterson fouled a ball off the top of his right foot Saturday.

He had precautionary X-rays taken yesterday that came out negative. "I think he could have pinch hit," Perlozzo said. "I don't know if he would have ran real well."

With Patterson being considered day-to-day, Luis Matos started in center field and went 2-for-3.

"I think I'll be OK," Patterson said. "It just got me in a good spot. I've done it before. This morning, it was pretty sore."

In other injury news, Javy Lopez sat out a third straight game with a stiff neck. Hamstrung by having only one healthy catcher on his roster, Perlozzo said he isn't sure when Lopez will be available, or whether he'll be able to catch Rodrigo Lopez tomorrow night.

Fan raises O's ire

Standing on the top step of the dugout before the start of the ninth inning yesterday, several Orioles had words with a fan wearing an Orioles cap, who was yelling at second baseman Brian Roberts and first baseman Kevin Millar.

Millar sprayed water from a cup toward the fan, who was ejected from the game by security.

Perlozzo had words with a fan at Camden Yards earlier this season, but he stayed out of it yesterday.

"I wasn't really listening to it," Perlozzo said. "I figured the boys could handle it. If he would have been yelling at me, it would have been a different story. He would have gone a little quicker than that."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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