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Focus now on Flores

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Focus now on Flores

Most of the focus on the Nationals' ever-changing situation at catcher has been on those players who have sustained injuries (Wilson Ramos, Sandy Leon) or those players who have been added to the roster to compensate for the losses (Carlos Maldonado).

Really, though, the focus should now be on the man who is being asked to take over everyday catching duties for the rest of the season: Jesus Flores.

Plain and simple, the Nationals need Flores to prove he can be a productive player both at the plate and behind the plate as well as hold up physically to the grind of the increased playing time he's about to receive.

The 27-year-old certainly has the pedigree to suggest he's up to the task. Once considered the Nationals' long-term catching answer, he amassed 301 at-bats in 2008 and was playing nearly every day in 2009 before a shoulder injury threw a wrench into his career progression.

Flores, though, understands the challenge he now faces in keeping his body in shape for the long haul.

"I've been working a lot on that part, that's for sure," he said. "I feel ready. I feel prepared to be the everyday catcher. I think I'm more mature and have experience from years ago. I feel very confident and trust that I can do the job."

Before he sustained that shoulder injury off a foul tip in Arizona three years ago, Flores looked poised for a breakthrough at the plate. He was hitting .301 with four homers and 15 RBI in 29 games that year and was establishing himself as one of the organization's best producers in clutch situations.

He's not the same offensive force today, though, that he was pre-injury. In 46 total games since returning to the big leagues, he's hitting an uninspiring .214 with one homer and seven RBI.

But are Flores' reduced numbers a product of eroding skills or a lack of consistent playing time? There's some evidence to suggest it's the latter. When given a chance to play more regularly over the winter in his native Venezuela, Flores hit a robust .322 for Magallanes with an .824 OPS.

"I think I've been doing a very good job lately, and I proved to them in spring training -- winter ball season helped me out, too -- to gain that confidence and all that rhythm to play every day," he said. "I know I can do it up here like years ago, even better right now."

The Nationals will watch Flores closely, because they may have to make a decision at some point. If he's able to perform at a consistent level while playing five or six days a week, the organization will be comfortable moving forward with the status quo.

If, however, Flores appears to struggle or is capable of playing only three or four times a week, the Nationals may decide they need to go outside the organization to add an experienced, big-league catcher who could split time with Flores the rest of the season.

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Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history. 

Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him. 

During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.  

In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons. 

Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others