Delino DeShields has taken all the suspense out of the competition for the Baltimore Orioles' second base job.
DeShields, who was supposed to be challenged by Jerry Hairston, is hitting .278 this spring and leads the Orioles with three homers and 22 total bases. He's also tied for the team lead with eight RBIs.
Because of his 1,271 games of major league experience, DeShields had the edge over Hairston (56 games) from the outset. But because Hairston has performed well too, there's a chance both could be on the 25-man roster on opening day.
DeShields has done his part to bring about that scenario by playing center field in place of the injured Brady Anderson. Although he manned the position in high school, DeShields is uncomfortable in the outfield. But he's been willing to give it a try because it gives manager Mike Hargrove more flexibility.
"Brady is the center fielder. If an injury happens or Brady's not ready to go, I'll go out there," he said.
Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift calls DeShields a "gazelle" in center field. Actually, DeShields is more like a fish out of water.
"It's different. I'm just trying to keep an open mind," he said. "The guys look small out there. It looks like I'm not really into the game; I'm used to being on top of the ball."
Thus far this spring, he's been all over the ball at the plate.
"I'm not really looking for hits right now," DeShields said. "I'm just trying to get that good sound off the bat."
He hopes to hear an even better sound on opening day: applause from the fans at Camden Yards.
DeShields, 31, played hurt and had his feelings hurt last season, his first in Baltimore. He began the year on the disabled list and ended it there, too. In between, he played in only 96 games.
Hairston performed so well in his absence that many Baltimore fans booed DeShields when he returned from the disabled list in late July. The harsh treatment was particularly distasteful to DeShields because he grew up in Delaware and anticipated being treated like a hometown hero when he signed with the Orioles as a free agent in December 1999.
DeShields feels no animosity toward Hairston, who's hitting .440 this spring. Although he would prefer to play second base, DeShields would be willing to move to center on occasion if it enables Hairston to make the team.
"I like being on the field with Jerry. If they can find a way to make it happen, we would be a better club," DeShields said.
Hairston, in turn, has the utmost respect for DeShields.
"It was really never a competition," Hairston said. "He's been playing in the big leagues for 10 years, which means he's been doing something right. He's an incredible athlete; having him in the lineup definitely helps us out."
Jesse Garcia has the inside track on the utility infield job, but Hairston remains hopeful that he can hang around after spring training.
"I think I can help the team, in the field or off the bench," he said. "But that's something for Grover to decide."