Fredi confident Markakis will be ready for opener

Vet plays right field for first time since neck surgery

Fredi confident Markakis will be ready for opener

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After getting a chance to watch Nick Markakis collect some plate appearances and reintroduce himself to game action the past two days, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez seems to be even more confident that the veteran outfielder will be ready for Opening Day.

"With his swing and approach, I'm thinking [he needs] 25 to 30 at-bats," Gonzalez said. "We can get him 30 in a week if we need to in those Minor League games. So, I'm really shooting for Opening Day."

Markakis completed his latest step in the preparation process when he played right field during the first six innings of Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Phillies at Champion Stadium. This marked the first time he had played defensively since undergoing neck surgery in December.

Like Monday, when he served as the designated hitter in his Grapefruit League season debut against the Astros, Markakis did not display any signs of hesitance in the field.

"Getting out there is a good feeling," Markakis said. "I still need to get some work out there by seeing some balls off the bat and make some more throws. I still have some time left."

After recording a pair of hits in three plate appearances against the Astros on Monday, Markakis went 0-for-3 against the Phillies. The 31-year-old right fielder is expected to add to his plate appearance total when he plays in a Minor League game on Thursday. Within that setting, he will be permitted to lead off every inning and thus have more opportunities to get his timing down while tracking pitches.

"I feel better than I thought I would right now," Markakis said. "I still have some work left. The swing feels good. It's just a matter of timing now."

Markakis, who signed a four-year, $44 million deal in December, has shown patience as he's recovered from neck surgery on Dec. 17 to repair a herniated disc. Despite not being cleared to begin regular batting practice until last Friday, he has maintained that his goal is to be ready for the April 6 season opener in Miami.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.