NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Nick Markakis drew a lot of attention on Tuesday for his comments about the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, but over the next few weeks, the attention surrounding the veteran outfielder will center on how he’ll be used in his new backup role.
“I’m just going to do my thing,” Markakis said. “[Braves manager Brian Snitker] will make the lineup every day. I’ve just got to worry about helping this team any way I can to win as many ballgames as I can. Whether it’s being in there every day or getting a lot more days off, that’s up to them.”
How Snitker will utilize Markakis became uncertain when the Braves signed Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million contract last month. Markakis had previously been projected to platoon in left field with Adam Duvall. But now it’s unclear how much playing time he’ll receive beyond being a primary left-handed pinch-hit option.
Atlanta is planning to put Ozuna in left field, Ender Inciarte in center field and Ronald Acuña Jr. in right field. Markakis could draw some starts on days when Ozuna needs to rest. But Duvall would be a better option to start on days when Inciarte sits against a left-hander and Acuña moves to center field.
“The outfield thing is tough to decide which way we’re going to go,” Snitker said. “We’ll probably use all of this Grapefruit League [season] to make that determination.”
Markakis playfully said he didn’t like Ozuna when the former Cardinals outfielder was playing against the Braves in last year’s National League Division Series. But the 36-year-old veteran said all the right things when asked about his backup role and further showed why he’s long been one of the most respected players in any clubhouse he’s inhabited.
“They’re trying to do everything to make this team win as many ballgames as it can and go as deep as you can in the postseason,” Markakis said. “No hard feelings. [Ozuna] is a teammate, and he’s here to help us win. We’re happy to have him.”
Hank Aaron gave Snitker his first coaching role in 1980, and Bobby Cox spent decades serving as an influential mentor to the Braves’ current manager.
Snitker gladly welcomed Aaron into Atlanta’s clubhouse on Tuesday morning and then accompanied many of his players as they walked outside CoolToday Park to participate in the dedication of Hank Aaron Way.
But Snitker sadly said that Cox will not be able to visit Spring Training this year. The Hall of Fame manager suffered a stroke in April. He made enough progress to attend a Braves home game in September, but he is not currently strong enough to travel to Florida.
“I don’t anticipate seeing him,” Snitker said. “It was tough for me all last year [during the regular season] not having him around. But I still go to see him, and I talk to him. He’s a fixture here. He’s going to be greatly missed here in Spring Training.”
Snitker will likely alternate starts between his two third-base candidates. But he doesn’t envision having one replace the other during the middle of a game.
Camargo may be the favorite to open the season as the Braves’ third baseman. But Riley could quickly take over the role if he proves he is ready to once again be an everyday option at the Major League level.
Riley homered in 14 of his first 161 career at-bats last year, but he produced a .495 OPS in 123 plate appearances over the remainder of the season. Camargo is looking to repeat the success he had in 2018, when he hit 17 homers and constructed an .811 OPS (448 PA) after becoming Atlanta’s starting third baseman.