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Even when his bat shatters, Jesus Flores is recording base hits these days.
It's no easy task, though, to keep your bat sharp when opportunities are few and far between, something Flores certainly experienced last year while hitting a scant .209 with one homer and two RBI over 91 plate appearances.
A year older and a year wiser, Flores seems to have figured out the trick to success as a backup. He's already produced six hits in 10 at-bats while matching his RBI output from 2011 as a whole.
"Last year, I was in the same page," he said. "Now I'm more mature and kind of became more experienced, so I kind of learned to get to know myself better. I just keep doing my drills and all that stuff to keep my swing in check, and that's why I've been [more] successful in the last games."
Flores started three of the Nationals' first nine games, giving starter Wilson Ramos two days off in New York last week and then another breather yesterday following a 13-inning marathon the previous night.
The Nationals certainly didn't suffer any drop in offensive production with Flores behind the plate instead of Ramos. The 27-year-old went 3-for-3 with a walk and an RBI during yesterday's victory.
"I'm feeling good at the plate," he said. "Right now, I'm just being patient and I'm swinging at good pitches."
It's been a welcome sight for the Nationals, who three years ago fully expected Flores to blossom into their long-term catching answer, until a major shoulder injury derailed his career. They acquired Ramos from the Twins at the 2010 trade deadline, and even though Flores made a full recovery from the shoulder injury, it was too late to re-establish his standing as the club's starting catcher.
Manager Davey Johnson, who was among those who recommended taking Flores in the Rule 5 draft to then-general manager Jim Bowden, insists he never doubted the young catcher could revert to his pre-injury form. It just took time and patience.
"I saw improvement from the start of [last] year to the end of the year, in every aspect of his game," Johnson said. "And then going to winter ball, he tore it up. And he had a great spring. He's throwing better. He's more in command on both sides of the dish. He calls a good game. I've said before: It's a luxury to have two No. 1 catchers."
Flores did experience a brief scare yesterday when he collided with Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco on a fourth-inning play at the plate. He remained on the ground for several seconds and then appeared to limp off the field.
Turns out Flores slammed his right knee into Mesoraco's shin guard, leaving a nasty cut. But he returned to his position behind the plate the following inning and insisted he was fine after the game.
"I went knee-to-knee, hit the shin guard, and he kind of hurt me on my right knee," Flores said. "I think I should've slid a different way, but it was too late when I did it. ... It was sore at the moment, but I'm great now. I'm good."