Focusing on Flaherty in the field

The Orioles are back in action and back home tonight after completing their 11-game road trip and taking off yesterday. The Royals are visiting after playing back-to-back extra-inning games against the White Sox.

CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler came up with an interesting note on this series. On Sunday, the Orioles won their 107th consecutive regular season game when leading after the seventh inning. Also on Sunday, the Royals won a game for the fourth time, tops in the majors, when trailing after the seventh inning.

The Orioles are facing three right-handers in this series, including former teammate Jeremy Guthrie on Thursday, which favors second baseman Ryan Flaherty. He's been getting the starts in these situations.

Flaherty is batting .125/.213/.208 with three doubles, a homer and five RBIs in 23 games. It's fair to say he's been slow out of the gate. Real slow. But he did contribute a two-run single on Sunday.

Manager Buck Showalter is convinced that Flaherty can be an everyday player in the majors, and he's going to keep giving last year's Rule 5 pick opportunities to break out offensively while Brian Roberts remains on the disabled list.

Roberts is running and throwing, but he's still not ready to start playing games again. It's still going to be a while.

In the meantime, it's Flaherty against right-handers and Alexi Casilla against left-handers. And if we're going to dissect Flaherty's shortcomings at the plate, we also should mention how well he's playing in the field.

Flaherty hasn't committed an error in 21 games at second base. What's caught my eye is how he's been turning double plays. He just looks more comfortable, must smoother, this season compared to 2012. And he's made some throws that I didn't think were possible to get the out at first base.

"Definitely more comfortable," said shortstop J.J. Hardy.

One throw in particular stood out to Hardy during an April 23 game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards. I remembered it, too. The Orioles turned a 6-4-3 double play after Hardy fielded a slowly hit ground ball from Munenori Kawasaki in the third inning.

"I was impressed," Hardy said. "The way he turned it, I'm like, 'Oh wow.' I didn't know he had that quick release and that arm strength behind it.

"It's something you see him working on all the time, and it's nice to see he's definitely getting better at it."

I played the "name your double play partners" game with Hardy again. He's had to adjust to so many of them over the past few years while Roberts has been on the disabled list. Flaherty, Casilla, Robert Andino, Steve Tolleson.

"Omar," Hardy said, adding Quintanilla to the list.

Hardy has to make certain adjustments, including where each player likes to receive throws at the bag.

"A lot of them are the same," Hardy said. "For Flash, he's obviously a little bit bigger than some of those other guys that you mentioned, so maybe throw it a little higher for him. But he gets low. I threw a ball kind of low on that second double play that we turned (on Jose Bautista's ground ball) and he just got down with it and caught it chest-high and threw it. He makes an adjustment. I don't know how many I've turned with him, but I was really impressed with those two."

Flaherty, who's listed at 6 foot 3, agrees that he's become more comfortable in the field.

"Every time you're out there doing more reps at this level, the game definitely slows down a little more," he said. "It helps having J.J. out there. That's where it all starts. His feeds are always right there. He gets rid of the ball extremely quick and he's very accurate. When you get that combination, it makes it real easy to be able to avoid the runner and make a strong enough throw to get the guy out."

Flaherty was reminded of the throw that retired Kawasaki and completed the double play. Again, he passed along the credit to Hardy.

"He just gets rid of the ball so quick and it's in the same spot every time," Flaherty said. "It makes it a lot easier at second to be able to turn it.

"Alexi and Brian are both shorter, and a lot of second baseman are shorter, so I'm sure it's a little bit of a different sight for him to see."

Notes: First baseman Travis Ishikawa hit his first two home runs last night for Triple-A Norfolk and extended his hitting streak to nine games.

Steve Johnson allowed two runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, with one walk and eight strikeouts. He threw 94 pitches, 66 for strikes. Manny Delcarmen stranded three runners in the sixth.

Yamaico Navarro went 4-for-5 with two doubles to raise his average to .309.

Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia went 2-for-4 with a double and three RBIs last night for Double-A Bowie. He's batting .339 with 15 RBIs.

Since joining the Baysox on April 19, Urrutia ranks first in the Eastern League in doubles (eight) and second in RBIs (15) and extra-base hits (10).

The Orioles, in support of Major League Baseball in the PEOPLE Magazine Tribute for Heroes program, are asking fans to nominate a veteran to represent the club at the 2013 All-Star Game.

Fans may nominate a veteran who has served or is still serving in the armed forces at www.tributeforheroes.com and are encouraged to include information about the nominee's extraordinary military, community service, personal and professional accomplishments. One veteran or active military service member will be selected to represent each major league team at the All-Star Game on July 16 at Citi Field in New York. The nomination deadline is May 17.

Fans should visit www.orioles.com/military to learn more about the Orioles' military programs, including Military Sundays and ticket discounts.

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