Saturday, February 26, 2011

Jesus Flores--Looking To Make Up For Lost Time

From the day Jesus Flores made the big league roster for Our Washington Nationals as a Rule 5 draftee from The New York Mets in 2007, he's been considered an All-Star Catcher in waiting. All that promise though vanished over the past two seasons when Flores couldn't get healthy and remain on the field to play.

On May 9th, 2009, Jesus suffered a stress fracture in his right shoulder thanks to a freak accident. D.C.'s starting catcher took the brunt of a fouled off pitch behind the plate in Phoenix directly to his right shoulder bone. Despite expecting to only miss three months of action, Flores has now missed nearly two consecutive years. His recovery was set back further when he hurt his throwing arm in rehab. Only now--21 months after the original incident is Jesus Flores back playing again--looking to make up for lost time.

This past off-season Flores played Winter Ball, full time, in his native Venezuela. His manager was Nationals First Base Coach Dan Radison.  Nats320 caught up with Radison and Flores over the past two days to gauge Jesus' progress.

Nats320: How did Flores play in Venezuela this past winter?

Dan Radison: He played real strong. He played tough, just like the player we all know he can be here for us. He showed a lot of durability and that was important. A lot of people are worried about him because of his health—especially with his throwing arm. But he was very durable. There were even a few tough games where we played 13 and 14 innings, one run ball games, and he played all the way and he played great.

He’s always been a good hitter. He had a strong season for us down there. So I was real happy with what he did.

Nats320: Throwing has been his biggest issue since he got injured in Phoenix a few years back. You feel he is 100%?

Radison: Well, I can’t speak for him. But he played a lot of ball games down there and he was fine. He never complained about his arm.  So yeah, I would say he’s over the hump that way. I think he’s ready to go get them.

Nats320: Then you feel he’s ready to become a useful player again?

Radison: He’s more than useful, let me tell you, he’s valuable (chuckling). He’s Valuable!!

Now on to Jesus Flores' thoughts:

Jesus Flores: My arm is feeling very well. I feel great and I am just very excited to be back on the field and actually participating with my teammates in this spring training. It’s been far too long.

Nats320: Being out from playing for such a long time, how good was it to actually play in Venezuela this past winter?

Flores: A relief. It was very good for me just to get out there playing. Mentally, it really helped me regain my confidence and know I can still play and play well. It helped me understand that I was healthy to play baseball again.

Nats320: So whether we are talking throwing, hitting, fielding--you feel all your skills that you bring to the table are back?

Flores: All of them, in fact, even better than before. I am stronger and in better shape. But I am blessed that baseball and God has given me another chance to get back on the field. I really feel good about everything for the first time in a long time. My arm, my hitting, defense—everything is coming together. Everything is working very well.  Not only do I feel I am a stronger player, but I am a smarter player.  So I am just thinking about making the team.

Nats320: Clearly though it was tough being out for such a long time.

Flores: Yes, it was tough--really, really tough. There were some bad times when I had doubts, but now it is different. Since this season is now underway, I’ve said to myself, I am going to stop thinking about the past. I am going to stop thinking about the negative stuff. I am going to feel happy for myself.  I overcame all those troubles. I feel great because of that. I am healthy again and it’s time to just move on.

Nats320: Positive attitude always helps.

Flores: It also makes me more comfortable and relaxed. In the batting cage, on the field, everything is going my way again. I am going to prove to the team that my arm is 100% and I ready to compete again in the big leagues.  That’s all I can do. If I give my best everything will work out for itself.  I need to take away whatever doubt they might still have in me. In practice, in games this spring, I need to prove to them I can still throw out those runners.

I know I can hit.

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