Jesus Flores has been texting a lot lately with Wilson Ramos. Just the other day, Ramos told Flores he will be having his surgery next week to repair a torn ACL in his right knee, which will keep him out for the rest of the season. Otherwise, there is not much Ramos can do but hang out at his apartment.
“I just tried to tell him to be patient – be patient and be more patient,” Flores said. “Because that is the only way you can survive through this situation.”
Flores can speak from experience, both enduring a long, rigorous rehab process and coming out the other side. Flores missed most of 2009 and most of 2010 with a shoulder injury that turned into a torn labrum. He began 2011 at Class AAA and played infrequently when he got to the majors. He wondered about his place on the Nationals and if he would prefer to be traded.
In the wake of Ramos’s injury, Flores, still just 27, has again become the Nationals’ everyday catcher, the job he held before a foul tip nailed his shoulder in May 2009. Since May 13, the day after Ramos tore his ligament, Flores has played 12 of 13 Nationals games, starting 11 of them. He has hit .268/.295/.415, providing little dropoff from Ramos while shouldering a large load for a catcher.
“I’ve always said that he’s a quality, No. 1 catcher,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “His bat is getting better all the time. I think he’s gotten some sea legs under him. I think the first time when you come back after not playing but every third or fourth day, that makes a big difference. I don’t think anybody in the league handles the pitcher or blocks balls better than Flores. I’m real pleased with the way he’s been playing.”
Before Ramos suffered his injury, Flores played two or three games per week as the backup. With Carlos Maldonado backing up Flores, they have leaned heavily on Flores. He will start tonight, too, in the Nationals’ “Sunday Night Baseball” showcase. (Johnson did nto want to wait around all day to play. “It’s terrible being popular,” he said.) Maldonado will play Monday, breaking a string of 10 starts in 11 days.
“I really feel good,” Flores said. “Physically, mentally, so far I feel great. I think I prepare myself very good during the season, since the winter ball season. I feel like I’m at the point where I’m ready to be there every day.”
Flores often fumed last year as he found little playing time. When he arrived at spring training this year, he made clear he saw himself as an everyday player but accepted his role. The experience of coming back from injury and sitting has changed his outlook.
“It helped me last year on the mental part of being more strong, more mature,” Flores said. “Just see the game from a different side. But now, I can put all that together. And you realize the experience from years ago is working right now.”
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