The Braves figured that getting Nick Markakis in the lineup would help round out their offense, but this was a bit extreme.
The Braves collected 18 hits in first five innings against the Astros, including two hits from Markakis in his spring-training debut, and rolled to a 14-10 Grapefruit League win Monday at Osceola County Stadium.
The offensive outburst could not be attributed solely to Markakis, of course. There were big contributions from almost everyone in the lineup including multiple hits from six different players. Eric Young Jr. and Zoilo Almonte each was 3-for-5, and Andrelton Simmons had two hits and four RBIs including a two-run double, before leaving the game after he was hit in the left elbow by a pitch.
But it was Markakis’ return, and his single and long double in three at-bats, that were the most important development for the Braves. (Well, that and the fact that Simmons avoided serious injury and was just a little sore after icing his elbow.)
Markakis was the Braves’ only big-money acquisition in an offseason when they traded away several key pieces of last year’s team. The veteran right fielder spent the past four months recovering from neck surgery for a herniated disk, and was only cleared to begin full baseball activities last week.
He asked to in the lineup Monday after taking just three days of coach-pitch batting practice.
“He didn’t see one live pitch from what I understood, but it doesn’t look like it,” Simmons said. “That’s good. Can’t wait to see what he does when he does get some at-bats.”
The plan was for Markakis to serve as designated hitter in his first game and get two or three at-bats, whichever he preferred. It only took four innings to get his three ABs, as the Braves sent eight runners to the plate in the first inning, seven in the third and nine in the fourth.
Markakis flied out to left field in the first inning, doubled to the right-center gap in the third, and singled to right in the fourth inning. He scored after each of his hits, then left the game after the fourth inning. He’ll be in the lineup in right field Tuesday against the Phillies and play four or five innings, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
“We’ll see how he feels after running the bases — the first time he’s run the bases in a game in a long time,” Gonzalez said. “But it was nice to get him three at-bats. That second at-bat he really smoked that ball.”
Someone mentioned how it was impressive that Markakis went 2-for-3 after not facing live pitching since last fall.
“Well, it is,” Gonzalez said. “But you know the guy, you know he’s going to be ready, you know he’s going to be prepared.”
Markakis also showed patience, taking some pitches to get a feel for whom he was facing and to track various pitches.
“Yeah, he’s not just swinging at the first fastball he saw,” Gonzalez said. “He’s getting his timing down. It was nice. You couldn’t have scripted it, for his part, any better. Got him three at-bats in four innings, ran the bases, got him out of there.”
Markakis left the game, showered, and left the ballpark soon after, apparently having forgotten that reporters planned to speak with him.
Then again, he surely had plenty else on his mind after finally getting to play, following a serious surgical procedure, rehab, and a rush to get into condition (he was only cleared to begin running at the beginning of spring training).
There are just two weeks until the April 6 season opener, but Markakis and the Braves are confident he’ll be ready. Judging from his debut, it was easy to see why.
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