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Ryan Flaherty, Jonathan Schoop fill in nicely for Orioles

Manny Machado heard the familiar roars Monday as he jogged out to accept his 2013 Gold Glove in front of the Opening Day crowd at Camden Yards.

Sadly, Machado's chance to thrill the Baltimore faithful was fleeting. He's still rehabilitating the knee injury he suffered at the end of last season and had to watch the club's victory over the Boston Red Sox from the dugout.

Machado's injury has created a chain reaction in the Orioles' infield, pushing Ryan Flaherty from second base to third and creating an opening for the club's top offensive prospect, Jonathan Schoop, to start at second.

The pair covered for Machado's absence ably, with Flaherty making several sharp defensive plays and Schoop lining a single in his first Opening Day at-bat.

Beyond the hit, Schoop, 22, soaked in the love of home fans who had spent the last few months hearing of his sensational feats in spring training. They greeted him with elongated "Schooops" as he ran down the traditional orange carpet for his first opener.

"It's a different feeling," said the Curacoa native. "There's a lot of emotion — Opening Day and you're on the 25-man roster."

Manager Buck Showalter said the Orioles often joke about stumbling on the long carpet as they run in on Opening Day.

"Jon, I think he was floating on it," Showalter said. "He didn't have to worry about tripping."

Flaherty, meanwhile, could easily have battled his own nerves as he filled in for the incomparable Machado. Instead, he did his best imitation with the game hanging in the balance in the seventh inning.

First, Flaherty grabbed a slow hopper from Red Sox catcher A,J. Pierzynski with his bare hand and fired to first for the inning's second out. Then he showed his reflexes, snaring a sharply struck grounder by Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks and throwing him out to end the inning.

"There is no other Manny over at third, but I had a couple of plays, and I made them," Flaherty said matter-of-factly.

Showalter said he put Flaherty in Machado's spot specifically because of his defensive acumen.

"He's trying to hold the fort down until Manny gets back," the Orioles' manager said. "Ryan's going to do some good things for us. When I was making the decision about today, I wanted to err on the side of defense. We've got some other people who can play over there, but I just felt like Ryan could impact our game defensively."

Flaherty credited Orioles infield coach Bobby Dickerson with getting him ready to play a relatively unfamiliar position. Though he had been a utility man in his first two seasons with the Orioles, Flaherty had played just 24 games at third base

Speaking of Dickerson, he said: "He emphasized with me, 'Hey, if [Machado's] not going to be ready, you've got to be ready to play over there.' "

Flaherty said the Orioles won't accept defensive lapses, no matter who's manning a position.

"The team in general, they put a huge emphasis on playing defense," he said. "They believe it can impact the game. So all of us hold each other accountable, not just Manny. When the ball's hit to you, you make outs."

When Machado returns later in the spring, Flaherty and Schoop will likely compete for playing time at second.

Schoop's power potential is the main reason he's regarded as the long-term favorite to grab a starting job. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, he's massive for a second baseman and slugged .667 during spring training. Fans also remember the home run he smacked in his Orioles debut last September.

"He can hit," Flaherty said. "There's no one questioning that. And he plays a lot older than his age is. He's matured a lot. He knows what he's doing out there."

Schoop said the enormity of Opening Day hit him, leaving him with heavy feet as he took the field. But he didn't show it at the plate, lining a fastball from Red Sox starter Jon Lester into left field for his first hit of 2014.

"Of course, I was a bit nervous," the rookie said. "But in a good way, and after I made the first contact, it went away."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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