After a then-21-year-old Jesus Flores, who'd signed as an amateur free agent with the New York Mets out of Venezuela in 2002, had hit 32 doubles and 21 HR's with a .266/.335/.487 line in 120 games played with the Class-A St. Lucie Mets in 2005, the Washington Nationals selected the catcher with the 6th pick of the 2006 Rule 5 Draft, "...under the recommendation of manager Manny Acta, Minor League manager John Stearns and Davey Johnson," as MLB.com's Bill Ladson reported in a December '06 article entitled, "Nats tab three in Rule 5 draft." Flores, then 22, played the entire '07 season on the Nationals' major league roster as per the rules of the Rule 5 Draft, and at 23, the Venezuelan catcher wrested the starting job from other veteran backstops in 2008, but an ankle sprain suffered on a collision at the plate with the Philadelphia Phillies' Chase Utley brought his sophomore season in D.C. to a premature end.
At 24, as the Nats' no.1 catcher, Flores put up a .311/.382/.522 line, with three doubles and four HR's in 29 games and 103 plate appearances before a foul ball in a game against the Arizona D-Backs' caught him flush on his right shoulder causing what was diagnosed several days later as a stress fracture. In an ESPN.com/AP article entitled, "Injury could end year for Flores", about the official diagnosis, which didn't come until Flores had attempted to rehab the shoulder and felt increased discomfort, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo was quoted explaining that it might be a while before Flores was back on the major league roster, "'It's a bad day for the organization,' Rizzo said. 'It's not a devastating injury. It's going to take time to heal.'" No one knew then just how long it would take.
Flores worked his way back and returned for several AB's at the end of the '09 campaign, but further discomfort in his shoulder was revealed to be the result of a torn labrum for the catcher who'd also had athroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow while he rehabbed. It wasn't until this past Fall in the Florida Instructional League that the Nats' catcher finally returned to the field.
Flores played 25 games for the Navegantes del Magallanes in the Venezuelan Winter League this winter, his first sustained stretch of action since the injury, putting up a .322/.365/.460 slash line with six doubles, two HR's and 16 RBI's in 87 AB's. Flores was sent to Triple-A Syracuse to start the season, but late last week after the succession of injuries kept Flores, now 26, out of the major leagues since 2009, he was called up to replace Ryan Zimmerman on the Nats' roster. In his first plate appearance in two years, Flores hit an opposite field single in a pinch hit appearance late in Friday night's game with Milwaukee.
I spent five minutes with Jesus Flores before the Sunday doubleheader with the Brewers at Nats Park and asked him about his rehab, his return and what the future holds for the backstop who was once considered the Nationals' catcher of future.
Federal Baseball (FBb): Did you worry at all after the Nats signed Pudge Rodriguez and acquired Wilson Ramos that you were missing your opportunity to contribute at the major league level with the Nats?
Jesus Flores: "No, not at all, after all those years that I missed, I've just been working hard, trying to get healthy and 100% so that way I can get here and do my job and wait for the opportunity to show that I can play baseball again."
FBb: Did you feel any pressure to rush back seeing what they were doing to bring catchers in?
Jesus Flores: "I think this is kind of the same position I had in 2007 when I was [Brian] Schneider's backup, and I feel that kind of way, just waiting for the opportunity to play, and I'll be ready for it, so there's no pressure at all, not scared at all, just be patient and [do] anything to help the team to win and just wait for my time."
FBb: What's it like to work with Pudge, and do you regret you missed an opportunity to work with him last year?
Jesus Flores: "Yeah, I think I missed a really important year last year for me, but you know, that's part of the game, being injured, but now the history is different so I have to just look for that kind of advice around the team, and like I said, it's hard for right now, not playing every day, but I know it will come soon."
FBb: Do you think you'd be better off playing every day in Syracuse in terms of your recovery?
Jesus Flores: "Recovery is already done, it's more like getting timing [back], with the rhythm of the game, but being up here is something to feel proud of myself [for] after working really hard the last couple of years, and like I said I'm just going to be patient and wait for my right time."
FBb: Did getting a hit in your first at bat let you know you were really back?
Jesus Flores: "Yes, like I said I've never been scared, never been unsure of myself, so after getting that hit in my first at bat coming back after two years, [was] really big for me, and I hope, I know, I can do more than that."
FBb: What was the last thing that let you know you were 100%, being able to throw from behind the plate, power at the plate?
Jesus Flores:"The strength on my arm is going to take a while, that's what the doctors say, it's just the only thing that I can tell, that I'm still working on, but it's still good for throwing runners out, and everything else is better than before."
FBb: Better than before? Do you think it was a gradual injury where your shoulder wore down and you were playing below 100%?
Jesus Flores: "Well, I was, but I think [I'm a] stronger player, better player, and really those kinds of situations where I was injured all the time, kind of make you strong mentally and really more of a complete player, mentally and physically."
FBb: Can you give a quick scouting report on Wilson Ramos, have you been impressed with what you've seen?
Jesus Flores: "Yeah, I saw him in Winter Ball, I played against him and I know he's a really talented kid, and he's good, and I'm proud of him that he's doing well up here too and I wish him the best."
FBb: What was it like to get back to playing in the Winter League in Venezuela?
Jesus Flores: "For me, yeah, everything now playing on the field is big for me, after you know, like I said, it's kind of consistent for me saying that I missed two years, it's a lot, you know what I mean? It's a lot of time, but I'm still young, with a lot of talent too, I feel I can be an All-Star and I'm going to keep working for it. Venezuela was a good experience for me to show myself that I'm ready, I can play baseball in the big leagues again and I'm here and I'm going to show it."