Outfielder Nick Markakis and the Braves were pleased with his live batting practice Wednesday, a significant step as he nears rejoining the club’s lineup. Markakis has been on the injured list since July 27 with a fractured wrist.
Markakis took batting practice at Citizens Bank Park before the Braves’ game against the Phillies. He swung at pitches from Conner Johnstone, a Double-A pitcher selected by organizational pitching guru Dom Chiti to deliver the session.
“I feel great,” Markakis told reporters after his workout. “Under the circumstances, I didn’t think I’d be in this position right now as quick as I am. But trust in the team docs and medical staff here, I have to give them big props. They’re the reason I’m a week or two ahead of schedule. It’s just a matter of getting back into the swing of things, baseball activities, and progressing each day.”
Markakis will hit again Thursday while also participating in base-running drills. The team wants to see him run the bases and slide without any issues. Assuming it goes without complications, Markakis could return as early as Friday in Washington.
And when Markakis returns, he’ll be mostly manning left field rather than right, Snitker said. Matt Joyce is more comfortable in right and the Braves trust Markakis at either spot, so he’ll handle left on at least an occasional basis. The team has not decided how often he’ll play left, but there’s a chance he shifts between the corner outfield spots instead of staying in left full-time, Snitker said.
The Braves always expected Markakis to return ahead of schedule given his work ethic and toughness. Markakis aimed to rejoin the lineup in mid-September, which appears to be the case.
“He checked all the boxes,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We accomplished everything we wanted to today. He took a lot of swings off a pitcher. Conner Johnstone did a great job turning the ball loose. … (Markakis) was just barreling balls. I felt like we could’ve put him in (the game) today and he’d be fine.”
His return would mean the once injury-ridden Braves are lacking one regular, outfielder Ender Inciarte. The Braves did much better than just hold ground during their rash of ailments – since Markakis went on the injured list, they’ve increased their division lead from 6-1/2 games to 9-1/2 entering Wednesday.
They’ve done it with outstanding play from Joyce, who’s hitting .351/.455/.585 in 29 starts. Joyce will continue as a primary outfielder even when Markakis returns. Rafael Ortega, Billy Hamilton and Adam Duvall also proved valuable at times as outfield depth.
“I don’t think you could ask anything more from a group of guys, especially the number of injuries we had in a quick period,” Snitker said. “Everybody came together and the guys who got the opportunities did a really, really good job with it. It’s hard to replace guys like that, but we did a really good job doing that.”