Toward the end of last season, I approached Nick Markakis' locker and asked the right fielder whether his statistical decline could be blamed on his previous health issues. Markakis mentioned how he failed to make the necessary adjustments and it became a learning experience, which I found interesting, considering how he'd already spent eight years in the majors.
I guess you're never too old to learn.
I broached the subject with Markakis again last night on WBAL Radio's "Hot Stove Baseball" show. Health or failure to adjust?
"It all ties into the same thing," he said. "With my strength not being where it was, I was having to make adjustments I've never really had to try before, and I just think I was pressing a little bit, and just a bit jumpy. And when you do that against the type of pitching and players you're facing, it makes things a lot more difficult. Instead of being relaxed and letting the ball come to me, I felt like I had to get a little more behind it, and it kind of throws things off when you're not where you need to be.
"You can look back at any season and nitpick things here and there. It's part of a career, it's part of a learning process, it's part of things you go through. If you're fortunate enough to have a long career, you're going to hit a bump on the road along the way. The last couple of years have been bumpy for me, but my main thing is being healthy out there and being able to be on the field every day and help the guys out."
Markakis did stay on the field, appearing in 160 games after being limited to 104 the previous year, but he batted .271/.329/.356 with only 24 doubles, 10 homers and 59 RBIs.
"Baseball's a funny game," he said. "You have your way with the game and the game has its way with you. Everybody says it evens out in the end. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't, but once you put a good swing on it, you did your job and now the ball has to do its job. Sometimes you like it and sometimes you don't."
Markakis is giving himself every chance to rebound, attacking his offseason workout program with gusto. He's currently back down in Sarasota.
"I'm able to get a little head start on my training this offseason," he said. "The past couple of years have been a setback a little bit. But I reached my goals within some of that time. And last year I was healthy and that's my main goal going into every season. And at the end of it, you look where you're at and you decide whether you like it or don't like it, and that determines what you need to do going into next season.
"This year, I only took two weeks off, because with the buildup of injuries in the past, I was set back a good bit. This offseason, I took my two-week break and got the ball going in October, even before the World Series was over. I think that's the first time in my career that I've been able to do that."
Markakis is a strong candidate to lead off, but he hasn't talked to manager Buck Showalter about that possibility.
"Ultimately, that's his decision," Markakis said. "I'm sure if he's thinking about it or is going to do it, he'll let me know. And it is what it is. If my name is in the one spot or the eight spot, I'm going to go up there and try to do my job every time."
How much longer will Markakis have a job with the Orioles? This is the final year of his contract. The club holds a $17.5 million option for 2015.
"I have one thing in mind and that's going out there and helping my team any way I can and staying healthy on the field," he said. "Whatever else happens - you probably hear me say this 1,000 times - I go out there and do my job, and everything else should take care of itself."
Markakis isn't keeping close tabs on the Orioles' activity this winter, or the lack of it. He's got enough on his plate.
"Over the years, I've learned we have a lot of responsibilities as players to prepare ourselves for the season, and during the season we have a lot of responsibilities," he said. "What goes on in the offseason ... my dad's a big baseball nut, so he fills me in on what's going on, so I don't really have to pay much attention, because I know if something happens, I'm going to get a text message or call.
"I think the biggest thing is, you've got to trust the guys that are running your organization, guys that are going to do things right for the organization. And I don't pay too much attention to it. When I get to spring training, I have enough confidence in Buck and Dan (Duquette) and those guys up there. You've got to have confidence in what they're doing. They have a plan and they have an idea of what they're going to do, and you've just got to trust them. Sometimes you'll scratch your head. Sometimes, you'll appreciate what they do.
"The final product in spring training is what it is. That's what we have to deal with and that's what we have to work with. There are a lot of things that go into it, too. I think the biggest thing is trust, and trust in what they're doing."
It all starts with the starting pitching. Duquette is trying to find someone else for the rotation, as you've now read 1,000 times, but he's also counting on the current batch of arms to improve.
"You know with Buck and Dan not signing players that everybody wants them to sign, it says a lot in what they think of our young guys like (Kevin) Gausman and (Dylan) Bundy coming up," Markakis said. "They think we have enough pieces to piece it together and it's just a matter of piecing it together and going with it. And you throw (Wei-Yin) Chen in there and you've got (Chris) Tillman, who's going up every year, and you throw Bud (Norris) in there and you've got Gausman. We have enough pitching spots for them to battle it out for the fifth spot and the fourth spot. It's just a matter of trusting what you have in your organization.
"I was a young guy once and a lot of people depended on me. And the same with a lot of other guys when they come up. You trust your young guys and you bring them up in the organization. Hopefully, we can do that and piece it together. I'm sure there are a few more things we're going to do as a team and an organization before spring training, but I like what we have. It's just a matter of piecing it together and going with it.
"The big thing is getting 25 guys all on the same page striving for one thing. If you get a talented, good group of guys, anything is possible. I'll take our group of guys that we have now over anybody. It's just a matter of filling in a couple of holes here and there and getting to spring training, getting our work in and looking forward to opening day."
You can get a look at Markakis during the annual FanFest on Feb. 1 at the Baltimore Convention Center, though most of his face probably will be covered by a thick beard.
"That's the only reason I grow it," he said, "so I can go to FanFest with it."