- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 23, 2009

When Jesus Flores took a foul ball off his right shoulder May 9 in Arizona, the Washington Nationals were finishing a three-game winning streak. In the two weeks since Flores went down, the Nationals have lost 11 of 13.

Is it possible Washington’s young catcher has such a drastic effect on his team’s fortunes?

Perhaps there is some coincidental relationship to the Nationals’ record since Flores went on the 15-day disabled list, but it’s fair to say the club is eagerly awaiting his return.

“He’s our main game-caller,” acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s one of our best, potent bats in the lineup. … He’s a real offensive force, and he’s a good defensive catcher. It’s your future rock behind the plate. Yeah, we miss him a lot.”

Flores’ impact can be found not only in the Nationals’ record but in comparing the pitching staff’s ERA when he’s behind the plate with when backups Wil Nieves and Josh Bard are playing. Flores’ catcher ERA is 5.12, hardly spectacular but better than Nieves (6.54) and Bard (6.98).

“I put a lot of stock into it,” Rizzo said. “The comfort level that a pitcher has with a catcher is not to be underestimated.”

It doesn’t appear Washington will be without its starting catcher much longer. Flores is about to begin a rehab assignment, either at extended spring training in Viera, Fla., or with one of the club’s minor league affiliates.

Flores took batting practice for the first time Friday and said he doesn’t think he’ll need much time on his rehab stint before returning to the lineup.

“It’s hard for me in my position to be able to recover and start playing right away up here,” he said. “I want to do it good, so I’m ready to go a few games down there just to get the timing back.”

Crow back in the picture?

Could the Nationals re-draft pitcher Aaron Crow next month after getting spurned by the right-hander a year ago?

Rizzo has contacted Crow’s agents (brothers Randy and Alan Hendricks) to seek permission from the player to be re-drafted. The former University of Missouri starter was selected ninth overall last summer but couldn’t come to terms with Washington before the Aug. 15 deadline.

The aftermath of those negotiations was testy, with each side claiming the other was to blame. But with Rizzo now running the Nationals’ front office, the relationship may be improving. Washington was awarded a compensatory pick (10th overall) after failing to sign Crow a year ago and has said it’s willing to take a chance on him again.

“I’ve been in discussions with the Hendricks brothers about it,” Rizzo said. “We’re still talking about it. He hasn’t signed a consent form yet.”

Extra bases

Second baseman Anderson Hernandez was available to come off the bench Friday and could return to the lineup this weekend. Hernandez thought his right pinkie finger was broken when it bent backward in the fourth inning Thursday, but it turned out to be dislocated.

“That’s never happened to me,” he said. “I got scared. I thought it’s broke.” …

With his fourth-inning homer, Ryan Zimmerman reached base for the 40th straight game. He’s the first Washington player to reach that milestone since the Senators’ Jackie Jensen did it 43 straight games in 1953.