Focus now on Flores

Focus now on Flores
May 16, 2012, 1:18 pm
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Most of the focus on the Nationals' ever-changing situation at catcher has been on those players who have sustained injuries (Wilson Ramos, Sandy Leon) or those players who have been added to the roster to compensate for the losses (Carlos Maldonado).

Really, though, the focus should now be on the man who is being asked to take over everyday catching duties for the rest of the season: Jesus Flores.

Plain and simple, the Nationals need Flores to prove he can be a productive player both at the plate and behind the plate as well as hold up physically to the grind of the increased playing time he's about to receive.

The 27-year-old certainly has the pedigree to suggest he's up to the task. Once considered the Nationals' long-term catching answer, he amassed 301 at-bats in 2008 and was playing nearly every day in 2009 before a shoulder injury threw a wrench into his career progression.

Flores, though, understands the challenge he now faces in keeping his body in shape for the long haul.

"I've been working a lot on that part, that's for sure," he said. "I feel ready. I feel prepared to be the everyday catcher. I think I'm more mature and have experience from years ago. I feel very confident and trust that I can do the job."

Before he sustained that shoulder injury off a foul tip in Arizona three years ago, Flores looked poised for a breakthrough at the plate. He was hitting .301 with four homers and 15 RBI in 29 games that year and was establishing himself as one of the organization's best producers in clutch situations.

He's not the same offensive force today, though, that he was pre-injury. In 46 total games since returning to the big leagues, he's hitting an uninspiring .214 with one homer and seven RBI.

But are Flores' reduced numbers a product of eroding skills or a lack of consistent playing time? There's some evidence to suggest it's the latter. When given a chance to play more regularly over the winter in his native Venezuela, Flores hit a robust .322 for Magallanes with an .824 OPS.

"I think I've been doing a very good job lately, and I proved to them in spring training -- winter ball season helped me out, too -- to gain that confidence and all that rhythm to play every day," he said. "I know I can do it up here like years ago, even better right now."

The Nationals will watch Flores closely, because they may have to make a decision at some point. If he's able to perform at a consistent level while playing five or six days a week, the organization will be comfortable moving forward with the status quo.

If, however, Flores appears to struggle or is capable of playing only three or four times a week, the Nationals may decide they need to go outside the organization to add an experienced, big-league catcher who could split time with Flores the rest of the season.