Nationals have major problem with theft

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Foes steal at high rate vs. Flores and pitchers

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It was a disaster of an inning for Nationals catcher Jesus Flores against Philadelphia on Tuesday, and yet it was not completely his fault.

Phillies speedster Juan Pierre still can wreak havoc against even the strongest-armed catchers in the major leagues, and that tag hasn't applied to Flores for a while. A catastrophic shoulder injury early in the 2009 season cost Flores all of that season and 2010, too. A player who threw out a respectable 30.9 percent of opposing base stealers in his first 161 games is struggling now. Flores has caught just nine of the last 66 runners who have tested his arm.

Pierre did it in the third inning on the first pitch seen by teammate Chase Utley. After a ball from pitcher Stephen Strasburg, Pierre ran on pitch No. 3 and easily took third before scampering home when Flores' throw went off the glove of third baseman Mark DeRosa and into left field. Think that was bad? How about Cliff Lee -- a pitcher -- running on a 2-0 count to Jimmy Rollins with two out in the fourth inning. He actually stole second base. It was just the second time the ace lefty has swiped a bag in his career. Flores took the play in stride.

"Well, it's part of the game. [Lee] was very smart on that play," Flores said. "He kind of impress everybody and surprise everybody on that one."

And there's the rub. For while Flores is an abysmal 5-for-46 (10.9 percent) this season throwing out runners, his pitching staff isn't helping his cause. Strasburg has long had a problem holding runners close early in his career, and it's something he works on constantly with the coaching staff. In his career, Strasburg has been on the mound for 15 stolen bases against and just three runners caught stealing. This year he and his catchers are a miserable 2-for-14 (14.3 percent).

"I'm pretty upset with myself for letting guys steal on me like that," Strasburg said. "It's something where when things aren't going right you still have to remember that when there's guys on base that you got to keep them close."

His fellow starters aren't much better, Gio Gonzalez and his catchers are 12-for-55 (21.8 percent) in his career. He has had one runner out of nine caught stealing in 2012 -- and he's a lefty. Edwin Jackson, a righty, is only slightly better than Gonzalez at 30-for-135 (22.2 percent) and 2-for-6 in 2012.

Reserves catchers Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano have appeared in 19 games this season combined and are a decent 4-for-14 (28.6 percent). But even starter Wilson Ramos, who ranked third among all qualifying catchers last year (32.4 percent), struggled during the first five weeks of the season before tearing his ACL. Ramos was just 4-for-23 (17.4 percent).

"We've got some guys that are slow to the plate," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "Henry Rodriguez is really slow. [Craig] Stammen. I can go down the line. So I don't want to be too critical of the catchers when I know what their times are and I know how come they're stealing."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner