Markakis plays on Opening Day despite neck issue

March 31, 2014 | Luke Jones

Markakis plays on Opening Day despite neck issue

BALTIMORE — Beginning the 2014 season with hopes of returning to the postseason for the second time in three years, the Orioles received good news prior to their season opener against the Boston Red Sox with the news of right fielder Nick Markakis being in the lineup.

Dealing with a stiff neck over the weekend, the 30-year-old took batting practice and appeared to have no limitations swinging the bat before manager Buck Showalter officially inserted him in the lineup in the leadoff spot. The Baltimore skipper did not sound overly concerned about Markakis’ status in his pre-game comments, but he expressed the desire to be cautious without buying into the hype of Markakis wanting to play on Opening Day.

Even though left-hander Jon Lester will take the hill for Boston, the Orioles will send Ryan Flaherty to third base with rookie Jonathan Schoop playing second base. There had been some thought that the left-handed hitting Flaherty would sit against the southpaw with utility man Steve Lombardozzi factoring into the season-opening order. Flaherty received only 25 plate appearances against left-handed pitching last year and went 5-for-23 with a home run.

Schoop will become the first Orioles rookie since Luis Hernandez in 2008 to be in the starting lineup on Opening Day.

It was the spring’s worst-kept secret, but Showalter confirmed Monday morning that he informed right-handed pitcher Tommy Hunter that he will begin the year as the Baltimore closer. The manager also acknowledged that nothing is set in stone as he has other bullpen candidates in mind as ninth-inning options should Hunter not succeed.

Right-hander Josh Stinson will begin the season as the club’s primary long reliever, but lefties Zach Britton and Brian Matusz are also available to provide more length after being stretched out during spring training. Of course, the Orioles could always look at No. 4 and No. 5 starters Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris to give them extra options out of the bullpen if necessary with the abundance of early-season days off.

While the Orioles monitored Markakis’ status over the weekend, the Red Sox announced that outfielder Shane Victorino was heading to the 15-day disabled list, prompting Boston to recall outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. to replace him on the 25-man roster.

Here are the Opening Day lineups:

BOSTON
LF Daniel Nava
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
1B Mike Napoli
LF Mike Carp
CF Grady Sizemore
SS Xander Bogaerts
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Will Middlebrooks

SP Jon Lester (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

BALTIMORE
RF Nick Markakis
SS J.J. Hardy
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
LF Nelson Cruz
C Matt Wieters
DH Delmon Young
3B Ryan Flaherty
2B Jonathan Schoop

SP Chris Tillman (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Follow WNST on Twitter throughout the afternoon for live updates and analysis from Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

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