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Flores: Late form led to late arrival

- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals catcher Jesus Flores was supposed to report to camp more than a week ago along with the other catchers. The delay, according to team officials, was a visa problem that also kept a number of other players from reporting on time.

Flores, meanwhile, said the problem was the Nationals failed to send him a necessary form.

"The team is supposed to send me a form that I need to show in the Venezuelan embassy to get the visa, but they sent it too late," Flores said yesterday, his first day in camp working out. "So that is why I get to camp late."

A club spokesman said as soon as the Nationals received approval for Flores' visa, they forwarded it to the player. The club said the process took longer than normal, and it began it in early December, the same time it does every year.

Relief pitchers Jesus Colome and Luis Ayala also were late arrivals because of visa problems. At least one player still is not in camp: Japanese left-hander Katsuhiko Maekawa, who was signed to a minor league contract after an impressive stint in winter ball.

Flores, meanwhile, said it was frustrating not to be here on time.

"I wanted to be here before the camp starts, but it don't happen," he said. "So I just wait for that sheet. Finally, I get here. ... It is something that you need to show, and you can get the visa right away. That is why I don't get here earlier."

The two free agent catchers the Nationals signed in the offseason, Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada, both are recovering from offseason surgery and are not fully taking part in workouts.

Before Flores arrived, the team relied on four nonroster invitees — Humberto Cota, Wil Nieves, Javier Herrera and Chad Moeller — to catch.

Manager Manny Acta has said neither Lo Duca, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract, nor Estrada, who inked a one-year, $1.25 million contract, will be ready by the time the exhibition season opens Wednesday against the Florida Marlins.

Both are expected to be ready by Opening Day in the District.

General manager Jim Bowden has said the plan is for Flores, 23, to start the season at Class AA Harrisburg. Flores was picked up in the Rule 5 draft in December 2006 from the New York Mets and stayed on the major league roster for the entire 2007 season, batting .244 with four home runs and 25 RBI in 180 at-bats.

Before last year, he had never played above Class A.

"The plan for Flores is to be at Double-A every day, get 500 at-bats," Bowden said at the start of spring training. "That is the plan. He could be our starting catcher Opening Day. It wouldn't surprise me. He is our long-term solution, we think. But to get there, what we saw last year, we think it would really help him to play every day in Double A. There are still parts of his game that need time to develop."

Flores said he can play at the major league level and will do his best to show that in spring training.

As far as the additions of Lo Duca and Estrada, Flores said, "I don't think about it now. I am just getting here trying to do my job, preparing myself and try to show them that I can stay in the big leagues. I know Estrada and Lo Duca are All-Star catchers, but everyone is here for that one job, and that is what I want."

No intrasquad game

Manager Manny Acta had planned to hold an intrasquad game before the team begins its exhibition season Wednesday against the Florida Marlins in Jupiter but changed his mind yesterday.

"It is not going to give our pitchers enough live batting practice sessions for us to have a game," he said. "If we did, that would mean some of those guys would have only had one live batting practice, and we're not going to take a chance of getting anybody hurt."

Young featured

First baseman Dmitri Young, who last year was diagnosed with diabetes and earned the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award, was scheduled to be featured last night on the CNBC show "dLife TV." The program was to focus on Young's struggle with diabetes and his success on the field last season.