Washington Nationals catcher Jesus Flores returns to surgeon for more specialized treatment on shoulder

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010; D03

JUPITER, FLA. -- Nine days ago, Jesús Flores didn't want to even venture a guess at his rehab schedule, because past attempts had led to only more disappointment. Flores would plan to perform a once-fundamental, now-meaningful task, such as swinging a bat or throwing more than 90 feet. And then he couldn't, his progress stuck on pause.

"I'm not a lucky guy right now," he said.

In an effort to enhance Flores's recovery and further protect one of their brightest young players, the Washington Nationals on Wednesday sent Flores to Birmingham, Ala., to visit the surgeon who performed his shoulder surgery last fall, orthopedist James Andrews. That name has become perhaps one of the most ominous in sports, but the Nationals said Flores's stay with Andrews is merely a precaution.

"His arm's just not feeling good," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "Just not feeling right."

Flores will stay with Andrews for 10 days to two weeks, and once he returns, he will have to restart his throwing program. Flores already had said he would not be ready for opening day, and Riggleman reasserted that Flores will begin the season on the disabled list. At best, Flores could return in mid-April. At worst, the question may become whether he will play this season at all. General Manager Mike Rizzo is confident Flores will return.

"Flo is going to be back with us sometime in the near future," Rizzo said. "There's no further issues with the surgery or with the tears or anything like that. It's simply precautionary. He felt discomfort. Because of who he is in our organization, the type of player he is, we're being very cautious with him. We're pulling out all our resources to make sure this guy has the individual attention that he needs."

Rizzo decided to send Flores to Andrews for more specialized and personal treatment than the Nationals could provide. Rizzo said the "massive amounts of people that we have rehabbing with our three trainers" prevented Flores from receiving the individual physical therapy he required, which he will receive in Birmingham.

The Nationals do not believe Flores re-injured his shoulder, which Andrews repaired with a SLAP (superior labrum from anterior to posterior) procedure Sept. 16. The plan is for Andrews to "treat" and "evaluate" Flores, Riggleman said.

"Dr. Andrews knows where he should be at this point," Riggleman said. "I don't think it's re-injured. I don't think it's coming along as fast as he would like or as fast as the trainers would like."

By the first day of March, Flores had expected to be swinging a bat, which he still has not done. He was able to play catch at 120 feet this week, but nothing more. The Nationals will restart that throwing program once Flores returns from physical therapy.

Flores's extended time away will not affect the playing time of Iván Rodríguez, Rizzo said. When the Nationals signed Rodríguez this offseason, Rizzo planned on having him play roughly 100 games, depending on how he feels and how performs, no matter Flores's condition.

Flores's problems began last May 9, when he took a foul tip off his shoulder against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Flores rehabbed for a stress fracture and eventually played in the major leagues again in September, but only as a pinch hitter. After three at-bats, he felt more discomfort and was examined again. Doctors discovered he had a torn labrum, which may or may not have been related to the fracture.

Flores had been flourishing before suffering the original injury. He had a .371 on-base percentage and slugged .505 through 106 plate appearances, stellar for any 24-year-old, let alone a catcher. This spring, he had to flip balls to a coach when catching because he could not throw 60 feet back to the mound.

Flores said this spring that he believes the damage to the labrum could have been prevented or blunted had the team's medical staff not allowed him to throw after the injury. Rizzo reiterated that he understands Flores's frustration but that he has no concerns that Nationals training staff should have or could have acted differently.

"Our medical staff, we really investigated this thing very closely," Rizzo said. "We followed all the protocols and did everything we were supposed to do. We did our due diligence on all sides. According to our medical people, who I trust, and Dr. Andrews, who I trust, in their opinions, which is the only thing that matters to me, is that we've done everything we can here. We're still on the right track."

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