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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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The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years

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The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years

On Monday, in the middle of their game with the Yankees, Mike Rizzo did a very Mike Rizzo thing and added another strong arm to the Nationals' bullpen well before the trade deadline.

In a trade with the Kansas City Royals, the Nats dealt prospects Kelvin Gutierrez, Blake Perkins and Yohanse Morel for relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera.

Herrera, who's in his eighth season, has walked only two batters in the last 27 games and is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. 

"We just thought that it was a good idea to strike early," Rizzo said Wednesday on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies, simulcasted on NBC Sports Washington.

"We thought the closer to the deadline we get, the more competition we'll have for Kelvin [Herrera]. We were able to strike a deal with Dayton Moore quickly and [we] couldn't be happier about it."

But Mike Rizzo didn't just come across Herrera by chance, he's had his sights on him for years.

"He was one of the guys that we kind of kicked the tires on [last year] and obviously the price for Kelvin at that time with a year and a half of control was a lot different than it was with four and a half months of control."

"We did have our eyes on him for years. He's been a great reliever for years. He's one of the guys we talked about when we talked about improving our bullpen." 

Herrera has spent all of his eight seasons in the big leagues with the Royals, even winning a World Series. Trades can bring both joy and angst, but Rizzo knows Herrera is excited to get back to playing meaningful baseball.

"This guy is such a competitor; World Series tested and playoff tested. He's happy to be playing meaningful games. He talked about what it takes to win a World Series, and you know, our guys were all ears. I think he's really thankful for getting the opportunity to get after it again and get another ring."

"At the same time, you know, it's hard for those old relationship to die and to move on, but he was very excited about being with us. I spoke to him after we made the trade and he [was] a little shocked, but really fired up about it. And when he got to the clubhouse, [he] met some of his old teammates - Timmy Collins and Ryan Madson -  and was welcome with open arms by not only the bullpen guys but everyone on the team." 

Herrera will join Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler, and Ryan Madson to make about as deep of a bullpen as any in baseball right now.

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Trea Turner goes 4 for 4 to help Nationals beat Orioles

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Trea Turner goes 4 for 4 to help Nationals beat Orioles

WASHINGTON -- Presented with identical opportunities to ring up a big inning, the Washington Nationals took full advantage and Baltimore Orioles squandered the chance.

That goes a long way toward explaining why the Nationals are a contender and the Orioles own the worst record in the big leagues.

Trea Turner went 4 for 4 with a homer , Anthony Rendon drove in three runs and Washington extended its recent domination of the Orioles with a 9-7 victory Tuesday night.

The game was essentially decided in the fifth inning, which began with Baltimore leading 4-1.

In the top half, the Orioles loaded the bases with no outs and scored only one run -- when Manny Machado hit into a 4-6-3 double play.

Washington loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom half and batted around, scoring four runs on four hits and a pair of walks. Adam Eaton contributed a two-run single, Rendon hit a sacrifice fly and Bryce Harper chased starter David Hess with an RBI double.

"They did a lot better job cashing in their bases loaded, nobody out situation than we did," Orioles manager Buck Showalter conceded.

For the game, Baltimore was 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. The Nationals were 5 for 10.

"This team is starting to become relentless," manager Dave Martinez said. "They kept pounding and pounding and pounding, had a couple of big innings there and scored some runs."

The Nationals trailed 6-5 before getting six hits in a four-run seventh. Rendon delivered a two-run double off Tanner Scott (0-1) that made it 7-6, and Turner capped his four-hit night with a double.

Both teams noted that more than a couple of Washington's hits were bloopers and seeing-eye grounders, but the Nationals certainly weren't about to apologize.

"I feel like all year we've been hitting balls right at people," Turner said, "so it's nice to get a bunch of those in one game and come out with a win."

Washington has won six straight over its neighboring interleague rival, including four games this season by a combined 20-8.

Pitching in his second big league game, Nationals starter Jefry Rodriguez gave up five runs, four hits and four walks in five innings.

Justin Miller (5-0) pitched two innings of relief, newcomer Kelvin Herrera worked a perfect eighth and Sean Doolittle gave up a solo home run to Joey Rickard while earning his 19th save.

Jace Peterson and Trey Mancini each hit two-run homers for the Orioles, who have lost 16 of 19.

This one can be blamed on an all-too-telling fifth inning.

"It's just one of those things where if they got hits they seemed to have found holes," Showalter said. "They hit some balls hard, too."

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