By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 17, 2009
PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 16 -- For the last four months, the Washington Nationals have experienced life without Jesús Flores. The team has lost punch in its lineup. It has depended on a pair of should-be backups, Josh Bard and Wil Nieves, to fill a void neither can fill.
Said interim manager Jim Riggleman, "There's no denying we've missed Flores."
Because of what they've already seen, the Nationals have now become apprehensive about what awaits. Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala., Flores underwent surgery to repair his torn right labrum -- the latest in a progression of shoulder injuries that have kept him out, discounting a few recent pinch-hit at-bats, since May 10. Provided all goes well in the next six months, Flores will be ready by mid-March to rejoin the Nationals in spring training, regain the momentum of a promising career and reestablish himself as Washington's potential all-star catcher.
But for the moment, the Nationals are dealing more with questions than with best-case-scenarios. Do they now need to acquire a catcher, a Plan B if Flores cannot recover? Should Flores's labrum tear have been detected earlier?
Wednesday, several members of Washington's coaching staff noted that Flores's arm didn't appear to be 100 percent, even in spring training. A subsequent series of shoulder injuries -- all related to a foul ball that hit his shoulder on May 9 -- sent him to the disabled list, but perhaps the labrum problem was lingering all along, merely awaiting detection.
"He really wasn't anxious to throw a lot," Riggleman said, thinking back to spring training. "He wasn't throwing as much as the other catchers because he really didn't feel good. He got his arm to where he felt good and played in games, but I don't think he ever felt like he had in the past -- where he could really unload consistently."
In recent weeks, Flores resumed a throwing program. He planned to play winter ball this season in Venezuela, and have a normal offseason. But as he tried to get his arm back into shape, he felt discomfort when throwing from longer distances. The team originally thought it was tendinitis, or perhaps a sign of a plateau in his rehab.
"We were trying to bring him along slowly with his throwing, and apparently it just never got any better," bullpen coach Randy Knorr said. "He just said, 'It's not getting any better.' It's not like he was in pain; it just wasn't where he felt like it should be."Switching Sides
Josh Willingham on Wednesday started in right field for the first time since Aug. 24. Since then, he had played left field exclusively.