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Notes: Markakis in a comfort zone

Notes: Markakis in a comfort zone

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Perhaps his statistics weren't gaudy enough. Right fielder Nick Markakis went into Thursday's game against the Dodgers with a .354 batting average, and four hits later, he rested. Markakis homered twice -- once to straightaway center field -- tripled and drilled a clean single in Baltimore's 8-0 win over Los Angeles.

"I'm just feeling all-around comfortable out there," said Markakis, who raised his average to .404. "I'm seeing the ball well and I'm hitting the ball well. It's Spring Training -- that's what it's here for, to get comfortable and to get at-bats."

Markakis used the spring the same way last year, when the former first-round draft pick punished the ball and broke camp with the parent club. His season didn't take off until the All-Star break, though, when he established himself as Baltimore's everyday right fielder. This year, he came into Spring Training penciled in as the team's No. 3 hitter.

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He hit second on Thursday, though, and drilled a wind-aided homer to left field and a no-doubt shot to center field. They were his first two homers of the exhibition season, and Markakis said they felt good coming off the bat.

"The first one was questionable," he said. "I hit it good, but it was probably one of those Spring Training home runs. [It] kind of makes up for the ones you hit hard. ... When you're feeling good, you hit the ball hard right at people."

"Nicky keeps swinging the bat," added manager Sam Perlozzo. "He did it for us last spring and caught fire then. He's been great. He really has. If he can carry that into the season, he'd be a big plus for us."

Markakis is working on fine-tuning his game to include more stolen bases. The 23-year-old has been paying attention to speedsters Brian Roberts and Corey Patterson and working with the coaches to improve his jump. Markakis doesn't have a number in mind, but he said that he may be capable of stealing 15 to 20 bases a year.

"In practice, I'm working on it. If you get the opportunity in the game, then [you] try," he said. "I try to get that confidence up there so I can be able to steal a couple more bags next year to help out the team."

On Trach: Steve Trachsel had by far his best start of the spring on Thursday, when the veteran threw six scoreless innings against Los Angeles. He walked two batters and allowed two hits.

"My location was really good today, especially down in the zone," Trachsel said. "It's an extension of what we've been working on since I got here. A couple of balls played the wind, so it just depends on how you look at it. Both of those balls were hit good. They were both mistakes, and they should have been hit hard. Luckily, they turned out to be outs.

"For the most part, yeah, I was real happy with the way I threw."

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Trachsel said he was glad to be ahead in the count more often than usual, but he also said that he never threw his sinker in the game. In his last spring start -- scheduled for next week -- Trachsel wants to use his whole arsenal.

"My curveball is still a little bit loopy. I'd like it to be a little more sharp," he said. "Obviously, as long as it continues to stay down in the zone, everything else should be OK. My changeup's been good all spring, which is probably not normal for me. My fastball location gets better. If it keeps getting better every time out, I'll be real happy."

Perlozzo wouldn't clarify whether his five-man rotation is set -- as it appears to be -- but he seemed pleased with the way Trachsel threw the ball on Thursday.

"I thought he's been better every time, but today he was especially sharp," he said. "He threw all his pitches for strikes, stayed ahead of the hitters, and it paid off."

Third degree: Aubrey Huff started at third for the first time this spring on Thursday. Huff hasn't had much time to prepare for the hot corner this season, but third base happens to be the position he played most when coming through the Minor Leagues, so he had no reason to expect a difficult day.

"Yesterday I took ground balls during batting practice. And obviously, I'll do so today," Huff said before the game. "That's about it. [But] a ground ball's a ground ball, I guess, whether it's at first or third. It's just like the outfield. A fly ball's a fly ball in right or left."

The Orioles expect to use Huff primarily at first base, but he'll also see time at designated hitter. Huff may also be an option to replace Melvin Mora at third when the veteran needs a day off, but Perlozzo wouldn't commit to that. For now, Perlozzo just wants to feed Huff a steady diet of at-bats and worry about defense later.

"He might be a little [rusty]," he said. "It's awful tough for a guy to come in here that we think is going to play first more than he plays any [other] place. You try to get him comfortable there, and then you try to get him comfortable at third base and the outfield. The position he's played the most -- that he feels good about -- has been third base."

Quotable: "We've got ourselves in a situation where we have 11 or 12 guys that we feel can play out there. You're not necessarily pinch-hitting that often. If somebody gets hurt, you're in a little jam, but you're one day from getting out of that." -- Perlozzo, on the potential option of going with a shorter bench than usual

Coming up: The Orioles will travel to Fort Myers on Friday for a game against the Red Sox at 1:05 p.m. ET. Staff ace Erik Bedard will get the ball for Baltimore, and he'll be matched against Boston's Curt Schilling. So far this spring, Bedard is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA and more strikeouts (13) than baserunners via hit (eight) and walk (three) combined.

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

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