Flores con­fi­dent on re­turn to Catcher says his shoul­der is OK

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather -

VIERA, FLA. | Five springs ago, Je­sus Flores ar­rived at Washington Na­tion­als camp as a burly 22-year-old catcher. He had a rocket arm, could han­dle the bat well enough to last on the Na­tion­als’ 25-man ros­ter through­out 2007 as a Rule 5 pick and was quickly deemed the “catcher of the fu­ture” in D.C.

Since 2009, though, Flores has spent more time learn­ing about labrum surgery and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, about the dev­as­ta­tion and frus­tra­tion that comes with a freak foul tip turn­ing into a ca­reer-al­ter­ing in­jury, than he has be­ing that player. In the mean­time, that “catcher of the fu­ture” la­bel was peeled off his jer­sey and slapped onto that of his coun­try­man Wil­son Ramos.

But as the Na­tion­als pre­pare to open their Grape­fruit League slate this week­end, for the first time since a foul off the bat of Ari­zona’s Chris Young struck him in the right shoul­der, Flores is feel­ing like him­self again. Even if he’s him­self in a lesser role on the Na­tion­als’ ros­ter.

“I feel ex­cited,” he said. “Ac­tu­ally, I feel like the first year I came here.”

It’s a re­fresh­ing feel­ing for Flores. Af­ter so many months (that turned into years) of un­cer­tainty — from an in­jury that went from a bruise to a stress frac­ture to a su­pe­rior labral tear from an­te­rior to pos­te­rior — he’s found his game again com­pletely.

When the Na­tion­als’ catch­ers be­gan work­ing on throws to sec­ond base Fri­day, coaches said Flores’ progress, even from a year ago, was as­tound­ing.

“[Last year] was still, for me, a re­hab­bing year,” Flores said. “Even though I was play­ing, I never felt I was los­ing the fear of throw­ing and do­ing too much stuff with­out wor­ry­ing about my shoul­der. “This year is to­tally dif­fer­ent.” Flores went home to Venezuela this off­sea­son to play for the Nave­g­antes de Ma­gal­lanes in the Venezue­lan Win­ter League, part of the plan for him to gather 500 or so at-bats from the start of the 2011 sea­son un­til the start of this spring. He played al­most ev­ery day and added 218 at-bats to the 295 he ac­crued be­tween the mi­nors and the ma­jors in 2011, while hit­ting .330 with a .368 on-base per­cent­age and a .514 slug­ging per­cent­age. He opened eyes in­side the Na­tion­als’ or­ga­ni­za­tion and out. He also re­gained the con­fi­dence he had been with­out for so long.

“When he first came over here, he had a can­non,” said Na­tion­als man­ager Davey John­son, who sug­gested as an ad­viser at the time that the Na­tion­als se­lect Flores from the New York Mets in the 2006 Rule 5 draft.

“I can say now he’s a lot closer [to that],” John­son added. “To a man, when we cri­tique him in [the coaches’ con­fer­ence room], we’re re­ally pleased. We re­ally think that the work he did in the win­ter league erased some, prob­a­bly, men­tal re­stric­tions he’d put on him­self to baby the arm.

“He’s not 100 per­cent back, but he’s aw­ful close.”

When Flores was called up to the ma­jor leagues in July last year af­ter Ivan Ro­driguez went down with an oblique strain, his arm strength was an is­sue. Run­ners would at­tempt to steal al­most at will and 16 of the 20 who tried suc­ceeded in his 22 games be­hind the plate.

But with time, and through work early most af­ter­noons with for­mer bench coach Pat Cor­rales, that zip be­gan to truly re­turn. In Venezuela, he was able to con­tinue build­ing — while not al­low­ing the daily rep­e­ti­tion to break him down.

The re­sult, for the Na­tion­als, couldn’t have been bet­ter. With one of the most for­tu­nate catch­ing sit­u­a­tions in the ma­jor leagues they’ve got ei­ther a solid backup to Ramos or a valu­able trade chip if Flores plays as well as he feels.

“I can’t wait to watch those two play all year,” bench coach Randy Knorr said.

But Flores still doesn’t see him­self as a No. 2 catcher, even if he’s changed. One player noted that be­fore Flores got hurt he was phys­i­cally more im­pos­ing — more like the man who’s taken the No. 1 job in his place, Ramos. But this is who he is now: a 6-foot-1, 230-pound, 27year-old catcher who be­lieves in his soul he’s still des­tined to be a starter some­day.

“I know Wil­son is the No. 1 and I’m happy for him,” Flores said. “He had a great year last year and he’s got a lot of fu­ture but I feel the same way. I can do more. . . . If I have the chance to play, it’s the only way I can show it.

“Right now, ev­ery­thing looks clear about No. 1, No. 2, but for me, in my mind — we both want to help the team win and that’s what we care about first — per­son­ally [be­ing a starter] is more what I want.”

NOTES: Jayson Werth (back spasms), Adam Laroche (an­kle), Chad Tracy (knee) and Yunesky Maya (flu) all missed the ma­jor­ity of the Na­tion­als’ work­out Wed­nes­day. Werth, who sat out Tues­day as well, was feel­ing well enough to take bat­ting prac­tice in­doors and shag fly balls in the out­field. Laroche tweaked his an­kle run­ning the bases on Tues­day and Tracy re­ceived a cor­ti­sone shot. None of the in­juries is con­sid­ered se­ri­ous.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.