VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals optioned catcher Jesus Flores and right-hander Craig Stammen to Triple-A Syracuse today in a pair of moves that, while expected, eliminated two players from opening day roster contention who have seen significant time with the team in the past.
Flores hadn't played in almost two years after dealing with numerous shoulder injuries, most notably a torn labrum that kept him out all last season. He came to camp healthy, but hit just .125 in 15 games while Wilson Ramos surged early this spring. The Astros had expressed interest in trading for Flores, sending a scout to follow him, but cooled on the catcher after seeing his arm strength wasn't completely back yet.
"I knew it was going to be a really good challenge for me to make the team," Flores said. "One (of the catchers, Ivan Rodriguez) is a legend and another is a young kid with great talent. But at the same time, I trust myself, because I know what I have done in the past, and I know what I can do in the future."
He'll get a chance to play every day at Syracuse, which is an important step he still hasn't cleared. Once he gets at-bats and improves his arm strength, the Nationals hope Flores can get back to the majors and possibly split time with Ramos down the road.
"It doesn't feel good, to listen to what you don't want to hear (about being sent to the minors)," Flores said. "But at the same time, it helps me to keep battling myself to be better, keep working harder and show the player I can be."
Stammen, who started 19 games for the Nationals each of the last two seasons and opened 2010 as their No. 3 starter, never really got a chance to compete for a starting spot this spring. He ended the 2010 season as a long reliever, though he'll likely start at Syracuse. He allowed four earned runs in 8 2/3 innings this spring.