By Kevin Thomas
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If Ryan Flaherty was still enrolled at Deering High, Tuesday would have meant a day off from school, and maybe a little snow shoveling.
But those days are well behind Flaherty. Tuesday found him holding a bat, swinging away on a sunny 78-degree afternoon at JetBlue Park.
Flaherty, 26, the major leaguer out of Portland, played shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles in an exhibition game against Boston. He went 1-for-4 with a two-run single and a couple of hard line-drive outs. He's batting .257 this spring with nine RBI, second-best on the team.
"He's having as good a spring as anybody here," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, sitting behind his desk in the visiting manager's office.
And that has Showalter wondering what to do with Flaherty.
"That's going to be a tough (decision), one way or the other," Showalter said.
Showalter must decide whether to keep Flaherty on the major league roster or send him to the minors. Flaherty knows the deal. It's not like he intended to coast through this spring training.
"Every year you have to prove yourself. It will be like that the rest of my career," Flaherty said. "You can only control so much. You do what you can."
It figured that Flaherty would head to the minors. He played all last season in the majors, but the Orioles were required to keep him there, after taking him from the Cubs in the Rule V draft (Cubs general manager Theo Epstein did not put Flaherty on Chicago's 40-man roster, leaving him eligible for the draft).
Now that Flaherty has played his year in the majors, he has minor league options. The Orioles could send him to Triple-A Norfolk so he can get more playing time.
"That's conventional thinking that if he's not going to play everyday, he's really better off (in the minors)," Showalter said. "But he also did enough things real well at our level last year -- he was not a typical Rule V (player) that you're trying to hide.
"He played for us. And he played in the playoffs.
Flaherty played in 77 games, filling in at six positions, as well as designated hitter.
"He's capable of doing that (playing several positions) this year, if he makes the club," Showalter said.
There's that word: If.
Despite the pressure of fighting for a job, Flaherty said this spring training is "a little easier the second time around. You know everyone. It's all a little more familiar, a little more comfortable."
That comfort comes from the faith Showalter has shown in him. In the winner-take-all wildcard playoff game against Texas last fall, Showalter started Flaherty, who went 1-for-3. Flaherty then played in three of the playoff games against the Yankees, recording a home run off Hiroki Kuroda.
"He has some real upside," Showalter said. "He makes my job easier because of his versatility."
That said, Showalter stated that his roster is better than last year. "We have an upgrade in options."
Baltimore signed Twins veteran Alexi Casilla, who figures to be a utility infielder. And Baltimore has outfield depth.
But Flaherty is making it hard for Showalter to demote him. He played in the Dominican winter league. He has arrived in Florida, confident and ready to contend for a job.
Kevin Thomas -- 791-6411
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