ST. PETERSBURG -- Nick Markakis has been on fire in his first stint as the Orioles' leadoff hitter, entering Saturday with a .359 average, six doubles, two homers, 15 runs scored and five RBIs in 21 games since returning from the disabled list and moving atop the order.
The right fielder didn't slow down on Saturday, drawing a nine-pitch walk against Jeremy Hellickson to open the game before scoring on a Matt Wieters single. The next inning, Markakis' two-out single plated Nate McLouth to put Baltimore up, 2-0, and he drew his second walk of the game in the top of the fourth.
It's been impressive, particularly considering Markakis -- who had surgery in late May to remove a broken portion of the hamate bone in his right wrist -- still isn't 100 percent.
"It definitely doesn't feel normal," Markakis said of his wrist, which forced him to the DL for the first time in his career. "But we knew that going into the surgery, and post-surgery, [I'm] probably going to feel some soreness and tightness the rest of the year. But, it's good, and I'm getting my strength back there."
Markakis said he hasn't changed his approach since moving into the leadoff spot, but he has been more aggressive, which is something he wanted to do regardless of where he hits. The 28-year-old Markakis has raised his average more than 30 points since returning and said he doesn't care where he is in the order, with opposing pitchers' approach against him the same regardless.
"There's a lot of different ways to look at leadoff," manager Buck Showalter said. "I just told Nick to be himself. I don't want him to start flaring balls. If Nick gets a good pitch to handle, he's going to turn on it. I don't want him to be anything but him. I think he's handled it well.
"I actually thought a little bit today about moving him out of there because Nate has had a lot of experience leading off, but I want him to get his feet on the ground a little bit, not throw too much at him early on. I really like what Nick's doing for us, leading off."
McLouth made his Orioles debut on Saturday night from the seven-hole, and should Showalter test the veteran outfielder at leadoff, Markakis would likely slide back to second, where he has 1,188 career at-bats.
O's designate Chavez, add McLouth to roster
ST. PETERSBURG -- Seeking to bolster their outfield -- while protecting against the risk of losing Nate McLouth -- the Orioles selected McLouth's contract prior to Saturday's 4-0 win over the Rays and started the 30-year-old veteran in left field.
"Nate's been doing well down there [at Triple-A Norfolk]," manager Buck Showalter said of the move, which also involved designating veteran Endy Chavez for assignment. "Endy will end up on his feet shortly. I know [executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette] is going to explore some things with him, and we'll go from there.
"Nate, I think everybody was in agreement that we wanted to take a look at him up here and see if he could bring some things. He's been doing well down there. He's obviously an experienced guy and somewhat younger."
McLouth provided an immediate spark, doubling to right-center field in the second inning during his first at-bat with the O's. He scored Baltimore's second run of the game on Nick Markakis' two-out single and finished with a pair of hits in four at-bats.
McLouth signed with the Orioles on June 5, five days after he was let go by the Pirates, and the two sides agreed to push back the outfielder's original opt-out date to Friday at midnight ET. He hit .244 with 10 homers and 33 RBIs in 47 games at Norfolk and was informed of the promotion on Friday afternoon and joined the team in St. Petersburg later that evening.
"It's a great opportunity," said McLouth, an All-Star and National League Gold Glove Award winner with Pittsburgh in 2008. "I don't know what my role is going to be. Frankly, I'm just looking forward to whatever it's going to be. [I'm] thankful for the opportunity and excited to get started."
An eight-year veteran, McLouth had his best season in 2008, when he hit .276 with 46 doubles, 26 homers, 94 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. He played with Pittsburgh from 2005-09 and spent nearly three seasons with the Braves. He signed with the Pirates this past offseason and hit .140 in 57 at-bats before being designated for assignment and later released.
"I started off kind of rough," McLouth said of his time with Norfolk. "Rough in the sense that I just wasn't getting any hits. I felt comfortable; I have felt comfortable in my approach, especially the last month. ... I just got to a point where I detached my feelings from the result of the at-bat and just focused on the process of the at-bat. And I think that's the best way to go. I'm really comfortable with where I'm at."
"Nate McLouth was going to be in the big leagues today or tomorrow with somebody," added Showalter. "We had been asked about him. We feel like with [Triple-A manager] Ron Johnson down there and [bench coach] John Russell's knowledge of Nate and our knowledge where Endy was and what have you, we wanted to take a look at him."
Chavez batted just .190 with a .222 on-base percentage in 47 games this season with Baltimore, his fourth club since 2008. The 34-year-old tallied two home runs and eight RBIs in 121 at-bats and twice landed on the disabled list.
The Orioles are exploring potential trades for Chavez, given that if he clears waivers it's unlikely he would consent to playing at Triple-A.
Right-hander Jason Hammel is about a week and a half from throwing off a mound, according to Showalter. Hammel has been throwing off flat ground at home in Rhode Island. Hammel, who is recovering from right knee surgery and hopes to be back in early September, is a bit ahead of schedule and will head to the O's Spring Training complex in Sarasota, Fla., once he's ready to throw off a mound.
Nick Johnson, out with a right wrist injury, is at home in California, not in extended spring camp, while reliever Stu Pomeranz, sidelined with a left oblique injury, threw off flat ground on Saturday. The Orioles won't come right out and say it, but Johnson -- on the 60-day DL -- is probably done for the season.
Brian Roberts' right hip surgery, which was performed on Thursday, went as planned. Doctors found what they were expecting to, and the timetable for the infielder's recovery remains four to six months.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.