The Orioles are home tonight for the first time since July 12, the final game heading into the All-Star break. It’s been that long.
They were a .500 team after losing their final two games to the Nationals. They can reach .500 again with a win tonight over the Braves.
The Orioles went 4-5 on their road trip, sandwiching series wins in Detroit and St. Petersburg around the Yankees’ three-game sweep in the Bronx. Win two of the three series and it’s still not good enough in the heat of a pennant race.
If you’re more into the wild card race, the Orioles are 3 1/2 games back for the second spot.
Tonight’s game marks the return of Nick Markakis to Camden Yards, and he figures to receive a warm reception from former teammates and most fans. There may be a smattering of boos after he signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the Braves.
The Orioles were negotiating a four-year deal with Markakis after declining their half of a $17.5 million mutual option, but they pulled their offer after reviewing the results of his MRI and learning that he would require surgery to remove a herniated disc and fuse vertebrae.
The sides never came close to an agreement and Markakis, who is keeping his home in Monkton, headed to Atlanta. It wasn’t his first choice.
The Orioles have been anticipating his arrival since he left.
“We looked on the schedule and we thought with Nick coming back, it’s going to be weird seeing him play against us and not have him on our team,” said closer Zach Britton. “Sort of like when Jim (Johnson) came back last year, and obviously Jim’s coming back, too, with Atlanta. Any time you see two guys you played with for a little while and you’ve known them as Orioles for a long time, especially Nick, it’s going to be kind of awkward in a sense. But it will be good to see them.
“When he signed with Atlanta, I was at Brady (Anderson’s) house and I remember we were on FaceTime or whatever, me and Miguel (Gonzalez) and Brady, so we got to talk to him. But it will be nice to get there and talk to him. We hadn’t really gotten to since he’s been gone.”
The Orioles traveled to Orlando twice to play the Braves in the final week of spring training, but most of the regulars stayed back in Sarasota.
“I know he’d like to be here,” Britton said. “That would be nice. And we would really love to have him here, too, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. He was Mr. Oriole as far as I was concerned, from when I got drafted all the way through last year. When people thought Orioles, I felt like Nick was the guy. And (Adam) Jones as kind of taken that spot now. But it will be good to see him.”
Catcher Matt Wieters agreed that it will seem strange for Markakis, who played 1,365 games with the Orioles over nine seasons, to be in Braves attire this week as he patrols his old position.
“It’ll be weird seeing him in a different color uniform in right field,” Wieters said, “but I’m excited to get to see him for the first time since spring training.”
The two friends try to remain in contact, but Markakis isn’t the chatty type. Asked whether they stay in touch, Wieters smiled and replied, “As much as Nick talks.”
“We’ll text occasionally, which, a text message here and there is a pretty good conversation for Nick,” Wieters said. “We stay in touch and see how we’re doing.”
Does Wieters expect the crowd to give Markakis a nice ovation the first time he’s introduced?
“I do,” he said. “For as much as he’s done for Baltimore and as much as he’s done for the organization, I think he’ll get a nice cheer from the Orioles fans who are great baseball fans.”
Kevin Gausman will be pitching to Markakis tonight, making his fifth start of the season. Gausman is 0-2 with a 5.57 ERA in four starts over 21 innings, and 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA in eight relief appearances over 12 innings.
Left-handers are batting .310 against Gausman, compared to the .175 average by right-handers.
Gausman has never faced the Braves. He’s 1-3 with a 6.86 ERA and 1.667 WHIP in five games (four starts) against the National League.
The Orioles are seeing another left-hander tonight, Atlanta’s Alex Wood, who’s never faced them. Travis Snider most likely will be in the lineup because he’s 3-for-7 with a double and home run against Wood. David Lough is 1-for-1.
That’s it for current Orioles who have faced Wood, who’s 3-3 with a 2.28 ERA in 12 career interleague games, including seven starts.
Wood is 7-6 with a 3.78 ERA and 1.455 WHIP in 19 starts this season. He registered a 2.78 ERA and 1.142 WHIP last year in 35 games, including 24 starts. Right-handers are batting .303 against him this season, left-handers .278.
The Orioles took two of three from the Braves in Atlanta in June 2012, spinning back-to-back shutouts in the last two games. The Braves swept a three-game series at Camden Yards in July 2000.
Markakis had a career-high five hits against the Braves on July 3, 2011.
Maybe it was an omen.
Britton started for the Orioles that day and hit a home run off Brandon Beachy. Johnson replaced him in the sixth and worked two innings, Koji Uehara was credited with a hold in the eighth and Kevin Gregg earned his 15th save by retiring the Braves in order in the ninth.