Nationals Notebook

Nationals' Jesús Flores Bounces Back From Recent Slump

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jesús Flores still can't figure out why the best hitting opportunities come at the exact moment when you're stuck in a slump. About a week ago, the Washington Nationals catcher kept coming to bat with runners in scoring position. Twice, he struck out with the bases loaded and one out.

"I was chasing too many pitches, wasn't concentrating," Flores said. "I felt okay, but I was swinging at every pitch."

In the past five games, though, Flores has lifted his average from .227 to .289. Four of his five RBI have come since Sunday. And against the Braves on Tuesday, Flores -- vulnerable against inside pitches during the earliest part of the season -- finally turned on a fastball, ripping a run-scoring double against the left-center fence.

Though Flores batted eighth in last night's game, dropped because Ronnie Belliard received a spot start at second, he will spend most nights at the No. 7 spot in the lineup.

Backing Off Mulder

Despite rumors of their interest, the Nationals are not exploring the possibility of signing free agent Mark Mulder. The left-handed pitcher, a two-time all-star and former 20-game winner, has pitched just 12 2/3 innings during the last two years because of injury.

Mulder's agent, Gregg Clifton -- a neighbor of acting general manger Mike Rizzo in Scottsdale, Ariz. -- spoke with the club roughly a month ago about his client. But the Nationals have since backed off. Clifton has said that Mulder, who last pitched for the Cardinals, will be healthy enough to start big league games within two weeks.

González Benched

For last night's game, Manager Manny Acta replaced shortstop Alberto González with Alex Cintrón -- and not just because he wants the veteran switch hitter to see some consecutive at-bats. González has committed five errors in the last four games, struggling both with his throws and his glove.

"Tough to explain," Acta said. "This guy, everybody knows how good defensively he is. I think he made, like, one error in his first 38 or so games at shortstop [last year]. Unusual. But he's been a little shaky lately. He hasn't been his old self. But it's there. He's still a good defensive player. He'll probably go now a month without booting another ground ball."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company