Orioles' Markakis struggles in loss to Rays

Right fielder goes 0-for-4 at plate, can't get to key ball

May 08, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

Nick Markakis has shown signs of breaking out of his puzzling early-season slump, but the right fielder had an afternoon to forget in the Orioles' loss 5-3 to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

A day after he went 3-for-4 and drove in two runs, Markakis was hitless in four at-bats, stranding four base runners. He also was unable to catch Matt Joyce's double to deep right in the fifth — a play he usually makes — and that kept the inning alive for B.J. Upton to hit a two-run single off Brad Bergesen for the winning runs.

In his first two at-bats, Brian Roberts had gotten on ahead of him with a walk, and Markakis wasn't able to move him up or get a hit either time, lining out in the first inning and popping out in the third. In the fourth, he came up with men on second and third and popped out in the infield.

"You got to get big hits in big situations. I'm just not getting it done right now," said Markakis, who is hitting .231 (6-for-26) with runners in scoring position and .227 overall this season. "Those are situations that you want to be in, and you want to come out successful. I just have to keep plugging away and battling."

Markakis had two or more hits in four of the Orioles' past six games and was hitting .333 (10-for-30) with seven RBIs in the Orioles' first seven games in May. However, consistency has remained the issue for the 27-year-old outfielder who has a tendency to get immersed in prolonged slumps.

His defense is usually a constant, but Markakis even admitted that Joyce's double was a play that he absolutely has to make. The ball was hit well, but Markakis got turned around on it before the ball got over his glove.

"It definitely is a ball I should catch," Markakis said. "Those are the toughest ones, hit right at you. A lot of hard-hit balls over your head, you can get switched up pretty easily. The bottom line is that's a ball that should be caught, and it wasn't."

Roster decisions pending

With J.J. Hardy's imminent return from the disabled list, the Orioles will have tough decisions to make concerning the makeup of their 25-man roster. It was believed that the Orioles would make room for their starting shortstop by demoting a pitcher and returning to a 12-man staff. That remains the likely scenario. However, the recent struggles of the starting rotation and the heavy usage of the bullpen complicate matters.

Including Sunday, when Bergesen lasted just 42/3 innings, the bullpen has been needed for seven or more outs in 18 of the past 22 games. Over the past four days, relievers have logged 161/3 innings.

"Going to 12 pitchers does present a challenge there," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "You certainly have an off day on Monday, but it all revolves around how deep your starting pitching goes. It's going to be hard to make room for J.J. without a pitcher being optioned, but we can do that."

The Orioles are carrying a three-man bench consisting of fourth outfielder Felix Pie, backup catcher Jake Fox and utility infielder Cesar Izturis, who started Sunday, though Robert Andino has been the primary shortstop in Hardy's absence.

Izturis would appear to the most vulnerable if the club decides it needs to carry 13 pitchers. However, Izturis is perhaps the Orioles' most popular teammate and Showalter has raved about what he has meant to the club on and off the field.

"Last thing I'm going to do is broadcast what we are going to do or not do. There are options out there with our club within," Showalter said. "[President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail's] on top of that, and we will sit down, and like always, we will bounce it around and come to a decision, but I'm not going to handicap what we are going to do and how. I just don't think it's good for players, whether it's here or [Triple-A] Norfolk, to be reading about not imminent stuff."

Rehab notes

Hardy (strained left oblique) is expected to play one more game for Norfolk on Monday and could be activated as early as Tuesday's series opener against the Seattle Mariners. Hardy, who went 0-for-4 on Sunday while serving as the Tides' designated hitter, is 2-for-9 with three walks and two runs during his rehabilitation assignment.

If he has no setbacks during an extended spring training game Wednesday, Brian Matusz (strained left intercostal) will make a rehab appearance May 16 for Single-A Frederick. Matusz's next outing after that will be May 21, but team officials haven't decided where that will be.

Alfredo Simon threw a bullpen session Sunday at Camden Yards in front of pitching coach Mark Connor. He'll pitch Wednesday for Double-A Bowie and May 16, likely for Norfolk at Lehigh Valley. Showalter said injured starter Justin Duchscherer (left hip strain) will throw a two-inning simulated game in a couple of days. Catcher Craig Tatum, on the minor league disabled list with shoulder impingement, had an injection and is feeling better.

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