[UPDATED AT 12:41 P.M.]
JUPITER, Fla. -- Catcher Jesus Flores, still struggling to get his surgically repaired right shoulder back into shape, has left Nationals camp and will spend the next 10-to-14 days at orthopedist James Andrews' clinic in Birmingham, Ala.
Flores, who missed most of last season due to a compounding list of shoulder injuries, had surgery in September to repair a torn labrum. He arrived in Viera this spring hopeful of getting his arm back into shape in time to start the season, but it quickly became obvious he wouldn't meet that goal.
So far, Flores has only played catch from up to 120 feet and hasn't made the kind of progress he or the club expected.
"His arm is just not feeling real good," manager Jim Riggleman said. "He's tossing a little bit, it's aching, just not feeling right. We'll see if we can send him up there and let that stuff up there work with him, evaluate him and put him through tests, so he won't be with us for 10 days, two weeks."
Once he returns from Birmingham, Flores will have to re-start his throwing program from scratch, ensuring he'll have to open the season on the disabled list.
"I don't know how he couldn't at this point," Riggleman said. "No, we couldn't get him enough games to be ready for the season."
Ivan Rodriguez, signed to a two-year, $6 million contract in December in part as insurance in case Flores was slow to recover, will get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate once the season begins. Veteran Wil Nieves is likely to be Rodriguez's backup. General manager Mike Rizzo said he believes Rodriguez will start come close to the 100-game target the Nationals identified for the 38-year-old catcher upon signing him.
"The signing on Pudge, there was a plan in place for Flores being 100 percent perfectly healthy and for him not to be available," Rizzo said." The acquisition of Pudge, there was some strategy involved in that. ... Flo is going to be back some time in the near future. And Wil is a very accomplished guy who can back him up nicely."
Flores' shoulder saga began last May in Arizona, when he was struck by a foul ball and suffered a broken right shoulder. Originally expected to miss only a week or two, he instead was slow to recover from that. While working his arm back into shape later in the summer, he began experiencing pain and was told by team doctors it was probably only tendinitis. Following a brief minor-league rehab stint, though, an MRI revealed a torn labrum in the shoulder, requiring surgery. Flores also had minor surgery in November to remove a bone chip in his right elbow.
The Nationals don't believe Flores has re-injured the shoulder. Rather, he hasn't recovered as well as everyone hoped.
"There's no further issues with the surgery or with the tear or anything like that," Rizzo said. "It's simply precautionary because he felt discomfort. Because of who he is in our organization ... we're being very cautious with him and we're pulling out all our resources to make sure this guy has all the individual attention he needs."
Asked if he feels the club could have done anything differently over the last 10 months to avoid these setbacks, Rizzo replied: "Not at all."
"We followed all the protocols and we did everything we were supposed to do," Rizzo said. "We did our due diligence on all sides. And according to our medical people, who I trust, and Dr. Andrews, who I trust ... in their opinions, which is the only thing that counts for me, we've done everything we can here. I think we're still on the right track."