Manny Machado's suspension may be leaving the Orioles down an infielder from their 25-man roster, but it's given Ryan Flaherty a chance to showcase why he's a valuable major league ballplayer.
On Wednesday, the utility infielder snapped a 1-for-18 stretch with two hits, including a towering home run in the seventh inning that landed in the flag court beyond right field at Camden Yards.
The go-ahead homer, which led the Orioles to a come-from-behind victory over the Texas Rangers, was a resounding statement from an infielder who was in the lineup to fill in for Machado.
Because of the Orioles' bullpen needs, manager Buck Showalter chose not to promote a third baseman to replace Machado, who is serving a five-game ban for throwing his bat against the Oakland Athletics on June 8.
Flaherty has been one of the beneficiaries, starting at third base on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
"It can't be the same guys every night," Flaherty said Wednesday. "And it's an opportunity for other guys to get in there and try to contribute and help the team win.
"In the situation, with the roster the way it is, I might have to take that at-bat and then just try and contribute."
In the ninth inning Wednesday, the Rangers issued Flaherty an intentional walk, just the second free pass of the year for the infielder.
Surprising? Maybe a little bit. Flaherty has been one of the Orioles' least productive hitters this year, batting just .214 with four home runs and five doubles. He hasn't had back-to-back multi-hit games this season.
Showalter acknowledged Wednesday that he has been frustrated for Flaherty throughout the season, because the manager has seen the infielder be one of the most respected members of the clubhouse but still struggle at the plate.
"We want him to go to the next level," Showalter said.
Wednesday's offensive heroics might have been an aberration, and even Flaherty concedes as much.
"[I'm] holding down the fort until Manny comes back," Flaherty said. "When someone goes down, you've gotta have guys step up and help contribute."
But Flaherty, who was the Orioles' Rule 5 pick in 2011, isn't on the roster for his bat. Instead, he's a versatile defender who can fill in almost anywhere in a pinch.
Flaherty has played at second base, third base and at shortstop this year. It's the latter which differentiates Flaherty from other utility infielders. Most can play second and third, but fewer can man the gap between them.
And because Triple-A infielder Alexi Casilla had surgery this week to repair a fractured hamate bone in his right hand, the Orioles have very little depth at shortstop beyond Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop if J.J. Hardy suffers an injury.
"[Flaherty] is always going to be ready to give you what he's got," Showalter said. "He's a very valuable commodity for us."
Playing as a utility infielder, Showalter says, is more difficult than playing the same position every day. Flaherty spent several days working with infield coach Bobby Dickerson before he felt comfortable at third base.
When Chris Davis, the Orioles' usual first baseman, played third during the first day of Machado's suspension, he struggled to time his throws to first base properly. One rushed play resulted in an error and an unearned run.
A move from second base to third for Flaherty isn't as drastic, but he still had to work on some of the nuances of the new position, including footwork and approaching plays at the proper angle.
But he didn't commit an error on Tuesday or Wednesday, and he made several nice plays to keep the speedy Rangers off the base path.
And he contributed offensively to boot. But given his defensive support, that was just an added bonus.
"Everybody keeps saying, 'Well, he's got options [to be assigned to an affiliate],'" Showalter said. "Yeah, he's got options. We have an option to keep him here, too."
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