Jordan Zimmermann grew up in Auburndale, Wis., a speed bump of a town on US-10 that has a bar, a church, and not much else. It hosts Farm Technology Days each summer, has a "Bring Your Tractor to School" Day each year and counts two successful professional athletes among its natives - Zimmermann and former Green Bay Packers tackle Mark Tauscher.
Jesus Flores hails from Carupano, Venezuela, a coastal town of about 120,000 people on the Caribbean Sea. It's known around the country, primarily, for its rum - though the former Rule 5 pick's rise to the majors in 2007 helped put it on the map.
So it's a stretch to say Zimmermann and Flores have much in common, their upbringings separated by a continent and a hemisphere. But they did meet roughly in the middle in 2010, when two of the Nationals' former top prospects were toiling away in obscurity in Viera, Fla.
Zimmermann was on his way back from Tommy John surgery, while Flores was trying to return from shoulder surgery that had sapped his arm of so much strength, he was unable to throw the ball back to pitchers while catching bullpen sessions last spring. They were both points of pride heading into the 2009 season for the Nationals; in 2010, they had to put themselves back in the future plans.
On Thursday night, they got to share the spotlight for the first time in more than two years.
Zimmermann pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings, heading into the final two starts of his first full year back from Tommy John surgery on a high note. And Flores blasted a solo homer off Bronson Arroyo to center field in the fifth inning, putting the Nationals ahead for good in their 3-1 win over the Reds.
It was his first homer in the majors since May 8, 2009 - the same day he hurt his shoulder.
"He's been working his tail off the whole time," Zimmermann said. "Some people had their doubts if he'd ever make it back up here. But he was busting his tail down there in Florida. He called a great game tonight, and was swinging the bat great."
When Flores rounded the bases after his home run, Zimmermann was about to come to the plate. He shook Flores' hand, and deadpanned, "It's about time."
It's been a longer road back for the catcher than it has for Zimmermann, who sailed through Tommy John rehab and had a couple promising starts last year before becoming the Nationals' best pticher this season. He has a 3.11 ERA after 150 2/3 innings, and will get two more starts before the team shuts him down for the year, ending his year around 160 innings as a precaution after Tommy John.
Manager Davey Johnson is reluctant to lose Zimmermann, and it's easy to see why; with his 94-mph fastball and his power slider, he looks like a more-than-worthy complement to Stephen Strasburg at the top of the rotation. The Nationals will finally get them both together next year, though Strasburg will likely be on a similar innings limit to Zimmermann this year.
Flores' future in Washington is less clear; the Nationals have installed Wilson Ramos as their top catcher, in part because of concerns over Flores' durability. He has hit in six straight games, and looks almost fully recovered from his torn labrum, but the Nationals have plenty of organizational depth at catcher, which could make him a trade candidate at some point.
On Thursday, though, he had his moment. He shared it with Zimmermann, who met him on common ground - and a common struggle - last year.
"We joke around like we never have played together - like, 'Oh my God, what are you going to do tonight? Please throw the ball right down the middle. Don't throw the ball in the dirt; I don't want to block any balls,'" Flores said. "It makes us feel comfortable, and when we are out there, we just try to play hard."