Markakis says he’s “maybe a little ahead of schedule”

SARASOTA, Fla. - Right fielder Nick Markakis took batting practice earlier today, though he’s not using maximum effort and continues to be brought along slowly as he recovers from abdominal surgery last month. He remains optimistic that he’ll play on opening day.

“I feel great,” he said. “I know I’m not there, but I’m on schedule or maybe a little ahead of schedule, depending on how you look at it. Everything feels good. It’s just a matter of getting my strength back down there now. At times I’m sore, but I’ve got to work through that and strengthen where I’m weak right now. It’s a slow process, but it’s coming along.

“You won’t see me going 100 percent for a while. At least a couple more weeks. I’m a little iffy (moving) side-to-side. Where I actually had my rectus tear, I have no pain where I actually had pain last season, but where they did the adductor releases is a little more recovery time. It’s a slow process, but going side-to-side is a little iffy, and it’s just a matter of strengthening it and getting it together.”

Markakis said he doesn’t feel pain when swinging the bat.

“Nothing bothers me swinging,” he said. “It’s just a matter of opening up and changing directions. Little sore around that still. It’s just part of the process of having that operation in that area. Yeah, it sucks, but you’ve got to understand your injury and the benefits of taking it easy. You don’t want to go out there and reinjure yourself or have any setbacks, because you’re going to be pushing it close anyway to opening day. But we should get there as planned right now.”

Markakis said if he gets four or five exhibition games under his belt, “I think I’ll be all right.”

Asked if he’ll be cautious with Markakis, manager Buck Showalter replied, “We already have. Did you see how many swings he took? There were only certain balls hit to him in the outfield. There were only certain things he was able to do running around. He thinks we’re way overcautious right now. I don’t know how happy he is with us right now. He’s right where he needs to be. Now we just have to keep the reins on him.”

Will Markakis be full-go by the first week of March?

“I’ve got an idea of where he needs to play to get ready for the season, but I’m not going to put a public deadline out there,” Showalter said. “His February is his January. He’s usually a two-week guy and then he gets bored, as far as games, so we’re in good shape there.”

Here are a few more items from today:

* Reliever Jason Berken has never sustained a hamstring injury, so he has no idea how quickly it will heal and when he can get back on a mound.

“I did nothing baseball-related today,” he said. “I’m just letting it calm down and get the inflammation out and get as much treatment as possible. That’s what we’ll do for now and see how it goes day-by-day. It’s nothing that I’m overly concerned about. It’s definitely more than just like a stretch it out and ice it for a day and be ready to go. They shut me down for the day. But every day you hope it gets better and better and be back soon.”

Berken was running sprints late in Thursday’s workout when the hamstring grabbed.

“I’ll continue to treat it every day the most that I can, and hopefully it will keep progressing and getting better and better, and I don’t anticipate it being a lengthy thing. But then again, you never really know for sure,” he said.

“I’ve never had a hamstring injury before, so I really have no idea what to expect. But I don’t think it’s going to be one of those things that’s going to keep me out for an extended period of time. I’m optimistic that it’ll heal up soon and I’ll do whatever I can to make that happen.”

Asked if he’ll take tomorrow off, as well, Berken replied, “I’ll have to see how it feels in the morning. Honestly, it’s just going to be a day-by-day thing in terms of how it feels. But I think it’s more significant than just having it be a next day type of thing. If it’s better tomorrow, then who knows? But I haven’t gone through this before. I’ve just got to see how it goes in the morning and keep treating it and get back as soon as I can.”

* Showalter enjoyed seeing second baseman Brian Roberts on the field for the pre-workout stretch. He knew how much it meant to Roberts.

“He’s underplaying it,” Showalter said. “He was pretty excited to get out there and run with everybody. We were almost as excited to see him out there.”

Showalter can’t count on Roberts being ready for opening day. He can only hope for it.

“From my perspective, we can’t have our season’s success or failure rest on whether he starts the season,” Showalter said. “Robert (Andino) really established himself last year, and we’ve got some quality people in. Nobody’s going to try to make themselves out to be Brian Roberts, but who knows?

“I’ve found a lot of good players who worked with the opportunity they got, so I have to attack it “what if.” I think everybody knows it’s a given if he’s playing what he means to us, but we’ve got to attack as a team and an organization like he isn’t. There are not many free agents you could add to your club like a healthy Brian Roberts, but that just increases the pressure on him, I don’t want him back until he’s right. I’ve become very education on this thing, a lot more than I was. There’s a lot of factors other than the blow from the concussion. There’s a lot of things at play here.You know where he’s got to get back to, and we have to make him feel comfortable being honest about it.

“I think I’ve found out through the years to trust the fact that you’re not the expert, but you may think you are. I’m not going to compare it to the stuff I’ve went through with legal problems. I’m not going to go into a cockpit and tell a pilot how to land a plane. I’m not going to go into surgery and tell a doctor how to stitch. This is uncharted territory for a lot of us, including Brian. For the doctors, it’s a moving target. We’re learning more and more about it every day. It’s obvious from looking at the X-rays and the pictures and all the things he had done to him, there was some trauma there.”

You won’t find Roberts or the club providing a time frame. It’s impossible at this point.

“It’s only healthy for our club to go forward without that,” Showalter said. “If it happens, it will be a big kick in the pants in a positive way, but who knows what happens a week after he comes back and plays? I don’t know. I’m trying to move forward on both sides of it.”

* Armando Galarraga, Pat Neshek and Wei-Yin Chen threw a bullpen session in Group 1, Oscar Villarreal and Brian Matusz in Group 2, Oliver Drake, Chris Tillman and Dylan Bundy in Group 3, and Miguel Socolovich, Steve Johnson and Jon Link in Group 4.

Matusz was impressive again today.

“He’s off to a good start,” Showalter said.

* Zach Britton (shoulder) had another good day. Jim Johnson (back) had a scheduled day off before throwing off a regular mound Saturday.

* Showalter praised bench coach John Russell’s ability to keep these workouts organized.

“You see him at at 7:30 a.m., 8 a.m. - this station has to move to that station at this time. Running 90 people around that field, that’s about as good a first day can go. Physicals got done two hours early because so many guys reported early. That’s a first.”

*Showalter didn’t want to say much about this spring’s inspirational video that players watched last night in a downtown movie theatre.

“I’m getting too predictable,” he said. “We threw a couple new things there. Next year I’ve got to - good lord willing and Orioles willing - throw a little different hiccup, little different wrinkle. I’m open to suggestions. I had a couple ideas. I was trying to do something that was indigenous to the area, and my first thought was Ringling Bros., but I knew you’d be writing something about the circus and the Orioles, so I didn’t want to go there. I’m going to get some input from some of the locals.”

*Double-A Bowie catcher Caleb Joseph is expected to join the team no later than Sunday.

* Nationals manager Davey Johnson was saddened by the news of former reliever Terry Mathews’ death.’s Pete Kerzel passed along this quote from Viera:

“(Alan) Mills was hurt and the right-handed side of my bullpen was up and down. The left-handed side of the bullpen was (Jesse) Orosco, (Arthur) Rhodes and (Randy) Myers. We had a big hole in the bullpen for someone to throw the eighth inning to get to Randy. I remember Pat Gillick and I got on the phone to a bunch of scouts and they recommended Terry Mathews and Gillick acquired him. He was the guy that set up the whole bullpen and helped us get a wild card and then win the pennant from start to finish. I have nothing but fond memories in my heart of Terry Mathews.”

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