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Are the Orioles wasting a spot on Flaherty?

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Are the Orioles wasting a spot on Flaherty?

Early in spring training, it was obvious. Buck Showalter wanted Ryan Flaherty to make the team.Flaherty had to stay with the Orioles all season long for them to justify the investment in him.Showalter thought he was one of his nuggets, those invaluable, overlooked players.With two second basemen, Brian Roberts and Robert Andino out for extended periods, Flaherty is getting tested.For most of the season, the Orioles have carried 12 pitchers and 13 position players, leaving four extra players. One of them is usually Matt Wieters backup, though there have been times when Showalter has used a catcher as a DH. Flaherty is another, leaving two more.Showalter has said that Flaherty is going to be a major league regular, possibly as soon as next season. He dodges the question when asked what Flahertys best position is.Flaherty has played second, third, left field and right field as well as an inning each at first base and shortstop. Hes also the Orioles emergency catcher, though its doubtful hell have to catch.Hes is batting .196 with two home runs and seven RBIs. Flaherty has struck out 33 times and walked just twice. His bat isnt good enough to keep him in the major leagues nor has his glove, though hes made only two errors in 48 games. Showalter told him to play winter ball to try and make up for some of the at-bats hes missed. Flaherty agreed to the idea.Hell be 26 on July 27, and will have to start producing soon.Showalter claims the Orioles are happy they drafted him. Flaherty was the fourth pick in the Rule 5 draft.That draft has yielded Roberto Clemente, Johan Santana and Dan Uggla, though most players selected dont make it through spring training and are offered back to the club they were drafted from.Steve Johnson was drafted from the Orioles by San Francisco, though he was quickly offered back.Jay Gibbons, who formally announced his retirement last week, was perhaps the Orioles most successful Rule 5 pick.Their most unsuccessful was Jose Morban. In March 2003, the Orioles claimed him on waivers. He had been drafted by Minnesota from Texas.The Orioles were obligated to keep Morban much to manager Mike Hargoves displeasure. Morban was mostly used as a defensive replacement, and though he played in 61 games, he had just 77 plate appearances and a horrible .141 batting average. Clearly overmatched at the plate, Morban walked just three times and struck out 21.The next season, the Orioles kept the shortstop in their system, but he struck out 139 times at Frederick and Bowie, and after stops in the Cleveland, Seattle and Texas organizations, he was out of baseball in Apr. 2007. He never played in the major leagues again.Flaherty is clearly no Jose Morban. His outfield play certainly isnt smooth. As a left fielder he ran into Adam Jones one night at Citi Field, incurring an error. As a right fielder, he became tentative, afraid he was going to run into Jones and stopping suddenly, causing a misplay.After the game, one the Orioles won in exciting fashion, Flaherty was
down on himself. Last Saturday, inserted as a defensive replacement, at third, he booted a ball that caused Jim Johnson to blow a save.Hes made some plays in those situations late in games that Im not sure anybody else would have made. You always watch a persons body language when they come off the field after that happens, Showalter said.Showalter would rather be able to have sent Flaherty to Norfolk at times this season to play more regularly, but that wasnt possible.
Youd like to put them somewhere where they can finish off, Showalter said. Its hard to experiment in the major leagues.While Flaherty has benefitted from being a Rule 5, he clearly won the utility player competition this spring. He outplayed Steve Tolleson and Matt Antonelli. Antonelli left the organization in May after floundering at Norfolk, and with Andino out, Tolleson and Flaherty are sharing second base.Flaherty is also helped by the Orioles lack of organizational infield depth.Jonathan Schoop, whos been paired with Manny Machado in the minors, could be the next hope at second base. Roberts cant be counted on, and yes, Showalter is correct that Andino is better suited as a utility player.Ninety games into the Flaherty experiment, the roster spot looks wasted. The Orioles only have to hold on to Flaherty for six more weeks until the rosters expand Sept. 1.With the problems the Orioles have, they probably dont have a better option at second base than Flaherty or Tolleson.For now, Flaherty doesnt look like a major league player.

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As Bryce Harper prepares for possible final home game with Nats, take a moment to appreciate the journey to get here

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USA Today

As Bryce Harper prepares for possible final home game with Nats, take a moment to appreciate the journey to get here

As Bryce Harper plays out his final homestand of the 2018 season, and as everyone ponders the potential end of his career in Washington, one aspect of his journey to this point as a member of the Nationals stands out above all when considering what Harper and those who have watched him over the years have experienced.

Though all the hair flips, towering homers and viral quotes come to mind, Harper's tenure in D.C. may most be defined and appreciated by his faults.

That's not to harp on the negative when there have been so many positives. It's to take a moment to appreciate all the steps it took for Harper to reach this point as a player and as a man, and how those in Washington watched him day after day throughout that process.

See, if Harper does leave Washington and joins another team, maybe even a really good team, that club will receive a player who is just about a finished product. He has reached his prime and is fully-formed, having cut his teeth for seven MLB seasons. That franchise and those fans would see a completely different chapter in Harper's career and, arguably, only get to know him so well, no matter how long he plays for them.

That's because Washington Nationals fans have seen Harper grow up and learn many lessons the hard way, ever since he showed up to Nationals Park in 2010, flanked by Mike Rizzo and Scott Boras and was handed a No. 34 jersey by Ryan Zimmerman. Harper was just 17 and that day wore a black suit with a black shirt and a pink tie, the combination perhaps his first regrettable move as a pro.

With the Nats, Harper had to learn not to run into walls, to not play through certain injuries, to keep his cool with umpires. He learned through public admonishment to hit the cutoff man and to hustle to first base. He realized the power of his words and his responsibility as a face of baseball.

There were mistakes and Nats fans, for the most part, loved him for them. He was the chosen one, the guy who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16 years old, the No. 1 pick and the second-coming of Mickey Mantle. But he is human with flaws like the rest of us and a lot of it didn't come easy to him like most expected.

The comparisons between Harper and Mike Trout, his closest superstar contemporary, often highlighted the perceived shortcomings in Harper's game and personality. Trout never creates controversy with his words, while Harper can with remarkable ease. Trout did not draw the ire of older players and baseball lifers like Harper did in his early days.

Right or wrong, and most of the time it was uncalled for, Harper was constantly derided by people around baseball in his first few MLB seasons. But Washington fans were always there to defend him, knowing that if you watched him every night then you too would know those small transgressions - if they can even be called transgressions - do not represent the player or the man Harper actually is.

Washington fans were the first in Major League Baseball to realize Harper had the character and humility to match his transcendent on-field talents. He loves the game of baseball and, almost all of the time, plays it as hard as anyone. Harper has been criticized for playing the game too hard about as often as he has for taking off plays.

Take a step back and Harper's tenure in Washington so far has been a clear success, even matched with the expectations bestowed upon him as a teenager. He has won the National League MVP award, won an all-time classic Home Run Derby, made six All-Star teams and the Nats have won four division titles. He has helped usher in a new generation of D.C. baseball fans. The only way to top all of that would be a deep playoff run or a championship, but no one should have expected one player to make that sort of difference, given the dynamics of baseball.

Harper isn't perfect, but he is a lot closer to it than he was when he first debuted with the Nationals in 2012. The process of him getting to this point, even if it does ultimately mark the end of his tenure, should be appreciated by Nationals fans and Harper himself. No matter how much money he makes and where he plays next season, that chapter of his career is over and Washington fans should feel grateful they were there for the entire ride.

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The pressure is on for Madison Bowey to show he deserves more playing time

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USA Today

The pressure is on for Madison Bowey to show he deserves more playing time

Coming into training camp, we already knew who the Capitals’ seven defensemen were going to be this season. Among those seven is Madison Bowey who, with a new two-year, one-way contract, looks like a lock to make Washington’s roster.

In terms of playing time, however, Bowey still has a lot to prove and, according to Todd Reirden, he has not yet seen enough from him.

“We're going to put [Bowey] in opportunities where he can play minutes and play with different people and see where he's at,” Reirden said Sunday. “Obviously our three pairs we had last year worked well for us and we're fortunate to have all six of those guys back. That being said, he needs to make it a difficult decision for me on a nightly basis. That's in his hands. He needs to push me in that direction of making a change to that group because as of right now he wouldn't be.”

The Capitals’ top four on defense is set meaning Bowey will be competing for time on the third pairing with Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos. With only three preseason games left before the start of the regular season, that makes Tuesday critical for Bowey to show Reirden that he deserves not just to make the team, but to be a regular in the lineup.

“I've always been trying to be a guy that's hard to play against and making sure it's a tough night for the opponents,” Bowey said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “For myself, it's playing a two-way game and sticking to that. When I'm kind of throwing my weight around and being engaged and playing with urgency, I think that's when I'm at my best.”

The issue Reirden sees is that while there are strengths to Bowey’s game, they are not always prevalent on the ice in games.

“I think he's got to continue to allow the things that are difference makers in his game to show up,” Reirden said. “He's a big strong guy that can skate so he's got to be very difficult to play against in the defensive zone. And his skating ability up ice has got to be a factor in terms of adding to the offense when he gets the opportunity and trying to use his shot and his offensive instincts in zone. Those are the things he has in his toolbox that we need to see more on a regular basis.”

In addition to being a physical defenseman, Bowey also possesses strong offensive instincts. Yet, neither aspect of his game was all that evident last season when Bowey was still adjusting to the NHL. That sort of initial struggle is to be expected for many young players who tend to overthink the game. They need time to let the game become more instinctive.

But now, it is time to see improvement from Bowey in those areas.

“When I'm thinking and not just playing my game, that's when you can get into trouble,” he said. “When I'm just playing urgent, trusting my instincts and letting the game come to me, I think that's when I'm at my best.”

When talking about his expectations for him on Tuesday, Reirden described Bowey as a “veteran.” He’s not seen as a developing player anymore.

Clearly, the standard has been raised for Bowey. He needs to respond.

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