Flores' blast lifts Nationals
Catcher's three-run shot the difference-maker against Phils
PHILADELPHIA -- The Nationals may have to rethink how they use catcher Jesus Flores for the rest of the 2007 season. He clearly deserves to play more than once a week.
On Thursday afternoon, Flores proved once again how valuable he is as he helped Washington edge the Phillies, 7-6, in front of 43,413 fans at Citizens Bank Park.
In the eighth inning, the Nationals were down, 5-4, when they rallied to take the lead. Phillies right-hander Jose Mesa started the inning, but left when the Nationals had runners on first and second and one out. Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel decided to bring in left-hander Mike Zagurski to prevent any further damage.
Zagurski was able to get the left-handed-hitting Ryan Church to fly out to left fielder Michael Bourn for the second out.
Flores came to the plate and knew that Zagurski was going to throw him a breaking ball because Phillies pitchers were doing it to him all day. On the first pitch, Zagurski decided to throw Flores a changeup. The pitch was up and Flores hit the ball over the left-field wall for a three-run home run. It was his second home run of the season. Flores now has five RBIs in the last two games. He had a pinch-hit double against the Phillies on Wednesday.
"I tried to look for a good pitch. It was a changeup right in the middle [of the plate] and I took a good swing," Flores said.
Flores has not played like an inexperienced Rule 5 pick. The pitchers rave about how he calls a good game -- and he isn't too shabby with the bat, hitting .264 with 15 RBIs. It helps that bench coach Pat Corrales has been his mentor all season. Corrales has Flores looking at video on a daily basis and working on his catching skills at least once a week. Hitting coach Lenny Harris also works with Flores in the batting cage.
"He comes in to work every single day," first baseman Dmitri Young said of Flores. "Pat has him blocking balls, learning how to catch in the big-league level. He is working with Lenny on hitting. He is doing everything it takes to be a big-league ballplayer. When he gets in there, he makes the most of his opportunities."
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman credits the front office for getting Flores in the Rule 5 draft. It was manager Manny Acta, Triple-A Columbus manager John Stearns and former Nationals advisor Davey Johnson, who told general manager Jim Bowden to grab Flores last December.
"For us to get him is pretty unbelievable," Zimmerman said. "It's a tribute to our scouting. He has a chance to be a star. You see him catch. He has a very good arm for his age. You don't see too many times when the pitchers have to shake him off. Obviously, he has a lot of power. He is learning how to hit in the big-league level. It seem like every time he starts, he's impressive. It's because he works so hard."
With the way he has been going behind the plate and with the bat, Flores was asked if he deserved more playing time. He was politically correct and said it was up to management to decide his fate.
"I have to keep playing hard and do the best [I can] every time. My play will talk for me," he said.
Acta predicts that Flores will be a front-line catcher in the future.
"We think he is going to hit for power. He already has shown that in Class A ball. We are very impressed by the defense he has shown at this level," the skipper said.
Making his Major League debut, starter John Lannan was ejected in the fifth inning after hitting Chase Utley and then Ryan Howard with a pitch. He allowed five runs, four earned, on six hits in 4 1/3 innings.
The winning pitcher was reliever Jon Rauch, while Chad Cordero picked up his 20th save of the season. Cordero allowed a run in the ninth when Chris Coste grounded out to score Aaron Rowand.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.