Despite Long Season, Flores Hangs in There

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 31, 2008

Jesús Flores doesn't enjoy making a habit of tracking his statistics, even when they look good. Numbers can play with your head, he knows. But Flores, the Washington Nationals' 23-year-old catcher, cannot help himself. And these days, when looking at his batting average, he finds the number lower than he ever wanted.

"I don't like to watch it or look at it, but I like to make goals for myself," Flores said. "Like, I wanted over 50 RBIs this season, and I want to hit .270. If you do get more than that, that's a bonus. Yeah, I want to be a complete player. I can catch. I can hit. I can throw guys out. I can block. I want to be good. That's why I worry when I'm not hitting like I should."

But sometimes, numbers can lose their bad taste with one swing. Flores walked right into perhaps the most critical at bat of last night's game -- a 9-8 win against the Braves -- with an 0-for-21 skid. Over the last month, he'd seemingly hit a wall. His average, floating above .300 until late June, was still at .288 on July 20. But entering yesterday, Flores had a .179 average and .198 on-base percentage in August. He'd walked twice. He'd struck out 23 times.

That made what happened in the fifth inning last night all the sweeter. With the bases loaded and no outs, Washington trailing 6-3, Flores unloaded on a 1-0 pitch from Buddy Carlyle for a bases-clearing double. With two outs, he then scored, giving Washington a lead it would hold.

"Yeah," Flores said after the game. "It made me earn my confidence again."

Time will tell how that translates into improvement, but for Flores, this month has been a learning experience. He's been trying to counter the latest method pitchers are using against him. Coinciding with his slump, Flores has seen a surplus of high fastballs. He's chasing them.

This year, Flores has solidified his standing as Washington's catcher of the future, but still, he'd like to finish strong. He said that he feels neither tired nor overworked -- but, rather, he feels the grind of the season in subtler ways. After several starts in a row, his body needs a longer time to recover. Sometimes, he said, his bat feels heavy.

"But I don't think I'm tired or anything," said Flores, who started his 76th game of the season yesterday. "It's more like, sometimes, you don't feel well for two days or so."

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