Ryan Flaherty

Ryan Flaherty reacts after being called out looking by plate umpire CB Bucknor to end the sixth inning. (Rob Carr, Getty Images / May 9, 2013)

With second baseman Ryan Flaherty struggling at the plate, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has deflected the attention to highlight Flaherty’s improved defense.

But in Thursday night’s 6-2 loss to the Royals, Flaherty placed the spotlight to himself.

After a sixth-inning third-strike call that ended the frame with a runner on second in a 4-2 game, the normally cool-headed Flaherty slammed his helmet and bat to the ground in frustration.

“He thought it was a strike, I didn’t,” Flaherty said. “But, obviously it doesn’t matter what I think, so he thought it was a strike, and that’s the way it was.”

Flaherty, who drew a second-inning walk and had a fourth-inning single, is struggling through a 3-for-23 slump over his past eight games. He is hitting just .122 on the season and was just 1-for-10 in the three-game series against Kansas City.

“Everything’s frustrating,” Flaherty said. “You want to help your team win. That’s the bottom line. However it is, offense, defense, baserunning.”

And now with second baseman Brian Roberts out at least another six weeks following surgery on his right hamstring, a larger spotlight will be cast on Flaherty -- and his struggles at the plate.

Showalter is correct that Flaherty has made tremendous strides on defense. His range is improved, and over the past month, he’s turned double plays nearly flawlessly.

And Thursday night was a frustrating one for the Orioles because of home plate umpire CB Bucknor’s strike zone, especially in the late innings as the Orioles believed they were handcuffed from making a comeback.

“I understand some frustration in his last at-bat. It was obviously a ball there,” Showalter said. “You guys watched the same thing I did. Not very entertaining, watching the inconsistency of that. It's not something that's real new.”

Showalter was obviously also frustrated with the umpiring and he believes Flaherty is showing signs of breaking out of his slump.

“He was on base two times, probably should have been three or four if you get some cooperation with some other factors,” Showalter said. “Ryan's been playing the heck out of second base. I saw all the work he did today. He's giving himself a chance. He's having a little better at-bats, just missing some balls. I know it's frustrating for him.”