Results tagged ‘ Carlos Maldonado ’

The Iron Man In The Mask

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There is a rather crass saying around the game of baseball, for those players sitting in the Minor Leagues, next in line behind big league starters: they’re just a slip in the shower away from the Show. The point is not to make light of injuries, but to emphasize just how fragile any player’s hold on his position really is.

Flores has been a rock behind the plate for the Nationals this year.

Three years ago, Jesus Flores learned just how tenuous his own claim to the Nationals starting catching job was. After respectable half-seasons worth of time in Washington in both 2007 and ’08, Flores had his breakout year in 2009, batting .311/.382/.522 with four homers and 15 RBI in 26 games before a torn labrum cost him the rest of his year. Following offseason surgery, the backstop missed the entire 2010 season, and found himself back at Triple-A Syracuse in 2011, watching veteran Pudge Rodriguez and rookie sensation Wilson Ramos split time in Washington. He made it back to the big leagues late in the season, but hit just .209/.253/.314 in 30 games, and seemed poised to be, at best, the backup for Ramos in 2012.

Of course, nobody could have predicted the injury woes that would befall the Nationals catchers this season. First, Ramos twisted his knee while trying to chase down a passed ball on Sunday, May 13 in Cincinnati, tearing his ACL and ending his season. The very next day, Sandy Leon – Ramos’ replacement – was barreled over at the plate by San Diego third baseman Chase Headley and suffered a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for weeks. With Jhonatan Solano, the only other prospective catcher in the minors, on the Disabled List himself, that led to the Nationals summoning Carlos Maldonado from Triple-A and thrusting Flores into the starting role that he had not filled in nearly three years.

Some fans may have forgotten that it was Flores who caught Edwin Jackson’s two-hitter in April.

While his numbers have not approached those he posted earlier in his career, Flores has been a sturdy presence at a crucial position that dearly needed one. He has handled the game’s best pitching staff, while blocking breaking pitches in the dirt and taking foul ball after foul ball off the mask, the pads, even his meat hand, seemingly every night.

He has had his moments with the bat, too, though they have largely gone unnoticed. His first home run of the year broke a 3-3 tie in the final home game of the Baltimore series, but was quickly upstaged by Stephen Strasburg’s first career blast, which followed as the back end of back-to-back shots. His next roundtripper snapped a scoreless tie against then-NL ERA leader Brandon Beachy and the Atlanta Braves, but again it was Strasburg’s seven innings of four-hit, shutout ball with nine strikeouts that would dominate headlines following the 2-0 Nats victory.

And while Solano has healed from his injury and has filled in nicely as the backup for the Nationals, batting .294/.333/.559 in limited time prior to the break, there is a good reason that Flores continues to be the Nationals iron man, starting the lion’s share of games behind the plate. After all, he leads all Major League catchers with at least 50 games played with a 3.12 catcher’s ERA entering play on July 17. With a team whose fortunes will be dictated by their pitching, that’s more than enough evidence for manager Davey Johnson to know that his staff – and their blazing fastballs – is in good hands.

On The Network

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In a great moment from the baseball classic Bull Durham, Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh, the young pitcher who has just reached the big leagues, drops the following line in a television interview:

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose… sometimes, it rains. Think about it.”

Today in Viera, we didn’t have a win or a loss, but we got it all in before the rain. That’s right, we had ourselves a tie, an option that Laloosh never offered, and one which baseball fans are not used to considering.

Nationals Principal Owner Mark Lerner visits with Peter Gammons in Lake Buena Vista on Tuesday.

Here’s how it all went down. The Nationals plated an early run, thanks to an Ian Desmond leadoff double and a Jason Michaels two-out, RBI-single. The Cardinals pushed in front with a run in the fifth and two more in the seventh. The home side trailed 3-1 into the bottom of the ninth, when Koyie Hill dropped a high foul pop off the bat of Tyler Moore, giving the Nationals prospect new life. He took advantage, singling up the middle, and Carlos Maldonado followed by swatting a deep drive to the opposite field over the wall to tie the game at three apiece.

As it turned out, Davey Johnson had told Cardinals manager Mike Matheny around the sixth inning, when the game was tied at 1-1, that he only had enough pitching on hand to go nine innings. Matheny acknowledged that, and the two agreed that the game would go no further, no matter the score. And so, let it go down in the record books that the Nationals and Cardinals played to a 3-3 draw Wednesday, one of the anomolies of Spring Training.

Of course, ties aren’t the only aspect unique to Spring Training. It also provides some great opportunities for fans of the game that they can’t always take advantage of during the regular season. The ability to be up close and personal with those who play and report on the game is truly unparalleled, even at the Minor League level. While fans are generally most captivated by the players themselves, there are a handful of other figures around the game that can generate the same level of excitement. One of those individuals is MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.

We saw Gammons yesterday in Lake Buena Vista, as he took in the 5-2 Nationals victory over the Braves. That was when we discovered he would be traveling to Viera today to interview Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper for MLB Network. We were excited to get his take on the buzz and excitement surrounding the organization this spring. After all, when Peter Gammons talks, you listen. A three-time Sportswriter of the Year recipient and J.G. Taylor Spink Award Winner (given by the BBWAA), there is no greater authority on the modern game. We asked if he might share some of his first impressions of the 2012 Nationals so far in Spring Training, and he was more than happy to do so. Here is a glimpse of what he had to say.

Gammons interviews Stephen Strasburg in Viera on Wednesday.

“We all realize there’s a great deal of talent here,” Gammons said of Nationals camp. “I think the thing that’s really struck me, other than watching batting practice, is the job Mike Rizzo’s done in getting really good players. I hate to say ‘complimentary players’, because it’s an insult – anyone who makes the big leagues is a good player. But to be able to go out and get a Mark DeRosa, to have Brad Lidge, to have Chad Durbin, they’re some of the best people you could ever meet in your life. They’re rocks for the young players to follow.”

Look for much more from Gammons including which Nationals he expects to break out in 2012, which minor leaguer not named Harper to keep an eye on, and which team from recent history he believes this year’s team compares to best, all in the first Inside Pitch of the season, coming in April at Nationals Park.

The Nationals have another home day game tomorrow, taking on the Astros at 1:05pm. Here are their results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – 1:05pm

Overall Record: 2-2-1

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