Braves’ Markakis swings, throws, progresses toward return

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Nearly three months after having neck surgery to repair a herniated disk, Nick Markakis is getting closer to his much-anticipated Braves debut, and sounds a lot more upbeat than the day he reported to spring training.

Markakis, 31, had only been cleared to begin jogging a couple of days before he arrived at camp Feb. 25.

“Everything’s good so far, I swung the bat yesterday a little bit and threw for the first time,” said the right fielder, who had surgery Dec. 17, two weeks after signing a four-year, $44 million free-agent contract. “I’m comfortable, no issues, just taking it day-by-day…. I’m happy with the way the (surgery) turned out and the way things are going.”

While there’s no strict timetable for his return, the Braves think he’ll have enough time to be ready for the April 6 season opener at Miami. Markakis seems optimistic of that, too. Two weeks after being cleared to start running, and he had progressed to taking swings and throwing.

“Still got plenty of time,” he said Saturday, feeling no ill effects after his initial day of hitting and throwing. “We’re still in, what, the first week and a half? I swung some, threw for the first time. Progression. I’ll run bases today, hit a little more and throw a little more.

“There’s no rush. I’ll be fine with a week’s worth of at-bats.”

The Braves’ only big-money addition in an offseason when they shed more payroll than they added, Markakis had surgery to repair a condition first diagnosed in spring training 2013. It had worsened since, but didn’t keep him from playing 160 games in 2013 and 155 last season, when he won his second Gold Glove and hit .276 with a .342 on-base percentage, 27 doubles and 14 home runs.

Markakis, 31, was assured before surgery that he’d be able to resume playing with the same aggressiveness – some would call it reckless abandon – that he’s known for, including diving for balls in the outfield and occasionally running into walls.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Once I get to the 12-week mark, it should be done healing. So I’m good. That 12-week mark is coming up in about 10 days. They don’t want me to play in games until then. So I’ve got to wait for that 12-week mark and see where I’m at. If I’m ready for games, I’ll play. And if not, take a little bit more time. When I’m ready, I’m ready.”

Actually, the 12-week mark would be Wednesday. The date Markakis that Markakis presumably was referred to would be March 17, the three-month mark since surgery.

He said regaining strength was never an issue.

“I didn’t lose any strength, felt better (after surgery), and I’m right where I want to be,” he said. “I was lifting weights after four weeks. And I was working out before my surgery, before I knew I had to have it. So I was in pretty good shape before, and really only sat around for four weeks not doing anything. But even then, after my surgery, I was up, moving around.”

The healed incision is clearly visible on the front of his neck, but Markakis said he quickly got over any fear of ramping up activities.

“I’ve been through the (recovery) process before,” he said. “Not with my neck, but trying to come back (from injury). The biggest thing is, you’ve got to be right. You don’t want to go out there and tweak something and then you’re out longer.

“So, make sure it’s good. The biggest thing is, I know my own body. People know their own bodies. Doctors can say this and that, but ultimately you know your own body and how you feel. I’m feeling good right now and I feel confident.”