FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -Nick Markakis has always looked completely at ease when he is in the batter's box or in right field. However, there is one aspect of the game Markakis readily acknowledges is out of his comfort zone.
The Orioles have been encouraging their star right fielder to be more aggressive on the base paths, but Markakis has been slow to embrace the idea. That's why he has been working with Orioles third base coach Juan Samuel, who once stole 72 bases in a major league season, on the back fields of Fort Lauderdale Stadium. The two have covered everything from the size of Markakis' leads to diagnosing pitchers' pickoff moves.
"I really haven't ever been comfortable [stealing bases]," Markakis said. "It's always in the back of your mind: 'Don't get picked off.' That's why I was out there working with Juan trying to get a comfort for when to go, when not to go, how to pick things up. There's a lot [more] to stealing a bag than just taking off and going. There are areas where you have to get better before you can do that."
Markakis stole 18 bases on 24 attempts in 2007, but several of the steals came at the back end of Brian Roberts' swiping third base. Last year, he stole just 10 bases and was caught seven times as he became more and more reluctant to take chances.
"I wasn't disappointed," he said. "I'm just trying to get more and more comfortable. It's one of the areas in the game where you can neglect it, and I feel that I have been. I feel like if I work on it, I can steal quite a few more bases and get myself into scoring position and find better ways to help out this team and put some runs on the board."
The Orioles' Grapefruit League game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fort Lauderdale Stadium was canceled because of rain yesterday, their second rainout in a four-day span. The rainout wasn't good news for manager Dave Trembley and pitching coach Rick Kranitz, who are trying to make sure the pitchers get in enough innings.
Mark Hendrickson was scheduled to start the game, and he'll instead start today against the St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter. Hayden Penn, originally scheduled to start against the Cardinals, will still pitch today, either backing up Hendrickson or in a simulated game at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.
Upon further review
Orioles top prospect Matt Wieters is expected to be sent to minor league camp at some point within the next week, but that hasn't stopped the switch-hitting catcher from packing all he can into his second major league spring training. Wieters, following the suggestion of Trembley at the beginning of the spring, has been spending significant time each day studying video of hitters from every American League team.
"I asked him the other day, 'How many teams do you have to go?' and he said, 'I have one team left,' " Trembley said. "Most guys I'd say that to, and they'd say, 'Yeah, I'll get it later.' This guy has done what I've asked him to do. ... I hope I'm around here long enough to be his manager for a long time. This guy is going to be something."
2 pitchers sent down
Right-hander Brad Bergesen was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk yesterday, a day after a strong performance against Boston Red Sox minor league hitters.
Bergesen threw six scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and one walk while striking out six.
The outing didn't count in the spring statistics for Bergesen, who had made three Grapefruit League starts, allowing four earned runs in 11 2/3 innings.
The Orioles also assigned right-hander Andy Mitchell to their minor league camp in Sarasota, leaving the team with 48 players in camp.
Around the horn
Koji Uehara and Rich Hill remain on schedule to throw batting practice today. ... Brad Hennessey (right elbow) is close to getting back on the mound, though John Parrish (left shoulder) isn't. He returned to Baltimore and will likely undergo an arthroscope on his shoulder. ... Ty Wigginton will make his first start in left field Tuesday.