- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2011

DENVER — Washington Nationals catcher Ivan Rodriguez suffered a setback in his rehab from a strained right oblique, and the 39-year-old is no closer to a return that seemed imminent.

Instead, Rodriguez is heading to Philadelphia for a second opinion from Dr. Bill Meyers, who operated on Ryan Zimmerman’s torn rectus muscle May 3.

This is the second setback Rodriguez has encountered in his rehabilitation. He cut short a batting practice session in Houston two weeks after suffering the initial injury during BP on July 7 and headed home to Miami to work with his physical therapist a few days later. He was getting close to a return, noting to Nationals manager Davey Johnson that the pain had lessened significantly. All of that changed when Rodriguez dealt with this latest issue.

In the meantime, the Nationals will continue to turn to Jesus Flores every third day.

The man once thought to be the team’s catcher of the future has made a remarkable comeback from a shoulder injury to play his first full season since 2008. With Rodriguez sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Nationals will hope that Flores’ play continues to improve — as it has since his arrival for his second major league stint this season. And Flores hopes he can continue to improve his standing in the organization.

“For me, it’s all about confidence,” Flores said. “I know the role that I am having right now, so I just need to make that adjustment to be ready to play every three days or whatever and then whenever I have the opportunity to play, just to feel comfortable and calm down myself.

“I can get excited because I try to do too much. I try to overdo things and then the game speed goes too fast for me. Having been out for almost two years, you’re going to probably lose a little bit more of the focus or concentration when you have that rhythm of the game.”

Flores, who will reach the two-year anniversary mark of his labrum surgery Sept. 16, struggled throwing out base runners when he first returned; the first seven who attempted to steal were successful. That has since improved. Flores has been doing extra throwing with Nationals bench coach Pat Corrales ,and the results have been immediate. He threw out two runners in a game against the New York Mets last week, including speedy shortstop Jose Reyes, and now he’s 3-for-12.

“Sometimes when you go through something as severe as he had, it’s trusting it and feeling like you can push it a little bit and make it stronger,” Johnson said. “Those throws the other day, both of them were under 2 [seconds], which is outstanding. He’s got tremendous release. I think that’s got a chance as he gets stronger and trusts it, it’s going to make a difference.”

Flores hasn’t primarily been a backup since the 2007 season, when he was 22. Things have changed since then; his place as the team’s starter of the future has been filled by Wilson Ramos.

“I thought it would be easy to make the comeback because I felt good, I felt healthy,” Flores said. “I felt physically in the best shape I ever had in my career, but at this level, everything is different. You just need to be really concentrated on what you’re doing about the game plan and stuff with the pitching staff and the situation during the games. All those important moments in the game that would come from that experience you have playing every day.”

While Rodriguez remains injured, Flores will continue to adjust to a backup role both with the pitching staff and at the plate — where he is batting .172 with one extra-base hit and 12 strikeouts.

“I feel I want to be up here,” Flores said, admitting it was difficult to answer whether he’d be better off playing every day in Triple-A. “Here is where I can get the opportunity to be the everyday player. Wilson is doing an unbelievable job, and I’m happy for him because he’s another Venezuelan guy, another Latino, we’re friends from the past.

“Whenever [Rodriguez] comes back, I think they will have to make a decision. And whatever they decide, I will be ready and do whatever they want.”

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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