Markakis contributes in big way with two HRs

Markakis contributes in big way with two HRs

CHICAGO -- Though he has not necessarily lived up to the expectations of the four-year, $44 million deal he signed before the 2015 season, veteran right fielder Nick Markakis has served as a valuable leader who has exuded professionalism within a Braves clubhouse that has dealt with strife over the past two seasons.

But as Markakis further distances himself from the major neck surgery that zapped his power last year, he has occasionally provided the reminder that he's still capable of contributing, as he did on Thursday night, when he homered twice and helped the Braves claim a 4-3, 11-inning win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

"He just had a big night," manager Brian Snitker said. "That's good to see. He's the epitome of professional, the way he goes about it every day. He's even-keeled and shows up to play every single day."

Markakis drilled a no-doubt two-run homer off Jason Hammel in the first inning and then lined a game-tying solo homer off Hector Rondon in the ninth. In doing so, he doubled his season home run total and notched just the third multihomer game of his career. He recorded the first during his 2006 rookie season and his second on Sept. 14, 2008.

"I knew I hit it good," Markakis said of the ninth-inning homer. "I put a good swing on it, and that's all you can do, put a good swing on it. Then, after it leaves your bat, you really can't control anything."

When Markakis signed, the Braves were hoping they could rely on him to provide 15 to 20 homers per season, much like he did before his neck started to become an issue in 2013. But Turner Field's unfriendly alleys, combined with the surgery, limited Markakis to three home runs over 612 at-bats last year.

With this two-homer performance against the Cubs, Markakis has homered four times through this season's first 323 at-bats. Simply maintaining this rate will allow him to at least flirt with a double-digit total by the end of this season, but he is more concerned with simply providing consistent production.

When Markakis exited April with a Major League-high 11 doubles, he was hitting .302 with a .406 on-base percentage and .430 slugging percentage. He then slashed .215/.296/.282 over his next 46 games. But he has provided some encouragement, as he has now recorded a line of .317/.344/.500 over his past 15 games.

"You've got your ups and downs through a season, and the only way to get through it is to battle and keep grinding," he said. "I think the biggest thing is to just have good at-bats."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.