Jesus Flores playing in Venezuela
Nationals catcher Jesus Flores continued his comeback from a devastating series of right shoulder injuries Tuesday night, making his debut for Navegantes del Magallanes in the Venezuelan Winter League. Flores, who also participated in the Nationals' Instructional League, went 2 for 3 with a double in his first game.
Flores caught all nine innings Tuesday night, but he did not have to make any throws to bases, said Nationals first base coach Dan Radison, a coach in the Venezuelan league. The plan for Flores, Radison said, is for the catcher to play three times per week.
Flores's mere presence is an exceedingly promising sign. Flores, 26, missed this entire season after labrum surgery, which followed Flores playing in just 29 games in 2009 because of shoulder issues. At spring training last year, Flores could not even throw the ball back to the pitcher, resorting to tossing the ball to a coach standing a few feet away as he caught bullpen sessions. For much of the season, he could not even swing a bat.
The physical pain and mental frustration that defined the past two years for Flores seems to be melting away. He hit a home run in his very first game in the Instructional League. If he is healthy enough to play in his native Venezuela, in one of the most competitive winter leagues there is, he should be ready to go once spring training arrives.
A healthy Flores would provide the Nationals both a young, offensive threat behind the plate and a crowded stable of catchers. Without Flores in the mix, the Nationals planned on starting the 2011 season with a platoon of Ivan Rodriguez and rookie Wilson Ramos, the catcher that became their presumed Catcher of the Future after the Nationals acquired him for closer Matt Capps. Derek Norris, a 21-year-old on-base machine at Class A Potomac, is perhaps the Nationals' most promising prospect outside of Bryce Harper, and he also plays catcher.
Who knows how it'll play out, but for now file it in the "good problems to have" folder. When healthy, Flores, a former Rule 5 Draft pickup, had become one of the promising pieces of the Nationals' future. In 2009, he began the season hitting .311/.382/.522 (average/on-base/slugging) in 26 games. He took a foul ball off the shoulder, and it would not heal. He returned for three games in late September, at which point the Nationals noticed the torn labrum.
Flores has not been 100 percent since that foul tip struck his right shoulder. Finally, some 18 months later, that is starting to change.
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