Orioles Gold Glove right fielder Nick Markakis, who has been bothered for months by what he initially thought was a deep bone bruise near his abdomen, had surgery Thursday to repair an abductor muscle and his rectus abdominis, also known as the “six-pack” muscle.
Despite the extensive muscle damage, Markakis hopes to play in exhibition games by mid-to-late March and expects to be ready for Opening Day, April 6 at Camden Yards against the Minnesota Twins. He has already spoken to manager Buck Showalter about a potential plan that will ease him into spring training, which begins in earnest with the exhibition opener March 5.
“Spring training is what it is. I think if I get two solid weeks in at the end of games, I'll be fine,” Markakis said. “It doesn't take me long to get back in the swing of things. My main concern is just getting my strength back now.”
Showalter said he’s fine with taking it slow with Markakis, who seemingly comes into camp each February nearly ready to play a regular season game.
“What Nicky does in January, he’ll now do in February. I want to give him that peace of mind,” Showalter said. “This guy was ready in two weeks last year. So if he starts playing [March] 10th or 15th, he’ll be fine.”
In addition to the “six-pack” injury, Markakis said the abductor muscle on his right side “was kind of hanging off” and previous scar tissue was also discovered during surgery, indicating that he might have had similar, undetected ailments in the past.
“I'm not too concerned about it. I know I'll have to work twice as hard to get back to where I want to be, but it is definitely possible this could be a good thing,” Markakis said. “I've gotten extra rest and time off to allow my body to recuperate and get this injury fixed, and hopefully things will get better.”
Markakis first injured the abdomen while stealing second base Sept. 9 in Toronto. His belt buckle dug into his pelvic area on the slide, causing immediate pain. He dealt with lingering soreness until he re-aggravated the injury during the Orioles’ season finale Sept. 28 when he made a diving catch in right field.
After a MRI, he was diagnosed with a deep bone bruise and was told to rest in the offseason. The area likely was too swollen, Markakis said, to discover the muscle injuries at that time. He never fully recovered from the soreness and had another offseason MRI, which revealed the tears.
Even from the second MRI, Markakis said Philadelphia surgeon and sports hernia specialist Dr. William Meyers couldn’t determine the full damage — or the presence of the scar tissue, which may have hampered Markakis’ recovery — until Thursday’s operation.
“He said it was a very severe injury and they didn't know the extent until he got in there and cleaned it up,” Markakis said of Meyers, who performed sports hernia surgery in October on Orioles’ second baseman Ryan Adams. “They told me to walk a mile today to clear up that scar tissue, in three weeks I can resume normal lifting, four or five [weeks] light baseball activities and by six or seven I can be a full go.”
Markakis' power has declined since he homered 23 times in 2007 — he hit just 27 in the past two seasons combined — but he said he is not pointing to the abdomen injury as an excuse since he doesn't know when it first occurred.
“I wouldn't say it has bothered me for years, but the doctor said there has been damage and scar tissue there and that it is possible that I have been weaker down there in my lower half,” Markakis said. “It's a step-by-step process with it, and we'll see, but I'm hoping this can work itself out and I'll get back to where I was.”
Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman had a similar surgery — performed by Meyers last year — and missed six weeks and was not 100 percent when he first returned.
Markakis played in 160 games last year, the fifth consecutive season he has played 157 or more games for the Orioles. Last season, he batted .284 with 15 homers and 73 RBIs and won his first Gold Glove.