Nick Markakis expected to return to action Tuesday as designated hitter

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Nick Markakis hasn’t played in a Grapefruit League game since March 1 due to a small disc herniation in his neck, but all signs are pointing toward him being ready for Opening Day next Tuesday against the Rays.

According to Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com, Markakis was cleared to return to games after he took batting practice for the second straight day this afternoon. The plan calls for him to serve as the designated hitter in tomorrow’s Grapefruit League game against the Twins. The Orioles likely wouldn’t risk playing him on the major league side if they didn’t think he’d be ready for the season, so this can be taken as a sign that his neck is no longer an issue.

Markakis was limited to just 104 games last season due to hamate bone surgery and a broken left thumb. However, the 29-year-old posted his highest OPS (.834) since 2008.

Report: Orioles interested in Lance Lynn

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The Orioles singlehandedly kept the rumor mill churning this weekend. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports that the club is interested in making a play for free agent right-hander Lance Lynn, adding him to a list of potential candidates that also includes free agent righty Alex Cobb. The two are expected to command similar contracts in free agency, but Morosi notes that the Orioles may prefer Cobb based on his familiarity with the AL East.

Lynn, 30, is two years removed from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Despite missing the 2016 season, he bounced back with a respectable 11-8 record in 33 starts and complemented his efforts with a 3.43 ERA, 3.8 BB/9 and 7.4 SO/9 over 186 1/3 innings for the 2017 Cardinals. He lost several days with a blister on his pitching hand in early September, but managed to avoid any major injuries and can reasonably be expected to shoulder another heavy workload in 2018.

Lynn may not be the Orioles’ first choice to beef up their starting rotation, but there’s no doubt that he’ll be in high demand as one of very few viable starters on the market this winter. The veteran righty rejected his one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Cardinals on Thursday and will likely be seeking a multi-year contract, one that Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch estimates around five years and $100+ million. If the Orioles are willing to bite that bullet, they’ll still need to compensate the Cardinals with their third pick in next year’s draft.