Finally healthy, Markakis thriving at plate

Veteran outfielder has been raking since All-Star break

Finally healthy, Markakis thriving at plate

MILWAUKEE -- Whether he has been attempting to deal with the limitations created by a significant neck surgery or enjoying one of those stretches that indicates he still has plenty left in the tank, Nick Markakis has maintained that same even-keeled, professional approach that has allowed him to serve as such a beloved teammate and strong clubhouse leader throughout his career.

Nearly 20 months removed from the neck surgery necessitated by a herniated disk, Markakis is once again looking like the guy the Braves envisioned when they gave him a four-year, $44 million contract before the 2015 season. The veteran outfielder recorded a pair of key extra-base hits during Monday's series opening win at Miller Park and then delivered a game-tying RBI single during the decisive seventh inning of Tuesday's 2-1 win over the Brewers.

"I think I'm close to a year-and-a-half away from surgery, and I can't be happier with where I'm at right now, being able to be out there and be productive and help this ballclub," Markakis said.

With their rotation severely depleted by injuries, the Braves have won 10 of their last 14 games, or the same amount that they recorded through this season's first 40 games. Ender Inciarte, Adonis Garcia and a rejuvenated Erick Aybar have fueled some of the offensive success.

But a significant portion of the credit can be pointed in the direction of Markakis, who has hit .353/.424/.494 since the All-Star break and .410/.432/.667 over his past 11 games. He has tallied five of his seven home runs in 103 at-bats dating to July 7.

"He's just Mr. Reliable," Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

Last year, the Braves could rely on Markakis to come to the stadium on a daily basis ready to play, despite the fact there were stretches when it might have been in his best interest to rest while distancing himself from the neck surgery. He provided consistency while hitting .296 and compiling a .370 on-base percentage over 156 games. But his .376 slugging percentage stood as a constant reminder that his body would not allow him to produce the kind of power desired from a corner outfielder.

Given a chance to resume his normal offseason workouts this past winter, Markakis is now starting to reap some of the benefits. A productive April was followed by a miserable May. But in the 49 games played dating to June 15, the 32-year-old veteran has produced a .476 slugging percentage -- more in line with the .456 slugging percentage during the first seven seasons (2006-2012) of his career.

"It's just a matter of adjustments," Markakis said. "It's a game of adjustments, and they're constantly adjusting to you. You've got to go with what's working and what feels comfortable and then try to put good swings on the ball."

Easier said than done, especially when adjusting to the consequences of neck surgery.

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