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Unfazed Flores rolls with the punches

MLB.com

NEW YORK -- As a boy in Venezuela, Wilmer Flores' parents nicknamed him "Catire," a colloquial moniker meaning "blondie," because there were three other men named Wilmer Flores in the house and since he had yellow wisps of hair. He outgrew that, and he now sports a light brown cut and scraggy goatee.

As a teenager, Flores faced a language barrier after relocating to the United States. He outgrew that, learning English entirely by ear.

NEW YORK -- As a boy in Venezuela, Wilmer Flores' parents nicknamed him "Catire," a colloquial moniker meaning "blondie," because there were three other men named Wilmer Flores in the house and since he had yellow wisps of hair. He outgrew that, and he now sports a light brown cut and scraggy goatee.

As a teenager, Flores faced a language barrier after relocating to the United States. He outgrew that, learning English entirely by ear.

And as a 23-year-old in New York, Flores now plays under a microscope. The Mets are betting a lot of their early-season success on him being able to overcome those bumps, too.

"He's had a couple of bad games, and everybody wants to write him off," said manager Terry Collins. "You have to give him a legitimate chance."

Flores has seven errors through 21 games, tied for third most in the Majors and already three more than he committed in 51 games at shortstop last season. Limited range and hurried throws have overshadowed his three home runs, a total which is tied for the team best.

Video: ATL@NYM: Flores ties it with solo shot, fans fall

"If you make consistent errors, it's up here more than it is physical," said Collins, pointing to his head. "He might be putting a little too much pressure on himself."

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Flores has a long leash.

"We're in your corner," Collins told Flores.

But by sitting his starting shortstop in consecutive games against the Nationals to close the weekend, Collins further cemented Flores' status as one of the most scrutinized baseball players in New York.

"It's tough, but you got to get through it. This is how you're going to learn, from these mistakes," said Flores. "We're all professionals, but we're humans, too. You just have to shake it off."

The 11-game win streak that defined the Mets' start is a distant memory. They are still in first place in the National League East, but they're fighting now -- thanks to a slew of injuries and suddenly silent bats -- to stay in the top spot after dropping five of their past six games to division rivals. Mired in a 2-for-20 slump, Flores' struggles haven't helped, only raising questions about an infield alignment already in flux.

Collins believes Flores' throwing errors can be attributed to him peeking up too early, basically losing focus by trying to complete the play two steps too soon.

"Every ball you catch, pretend it's the fastest guy in the league," Collins told Flores. "Just throw him out."

The Mets have had success in the past moving their best athletes off shortstop: Jacob deGrom and Juan Lagares both started their careers at the position. But no matter how much Flores has struggled, the organization has stuck with him at short. It's been a constant learning curve for a player who didn't play shortstop until age 15 and who eventually spent a third of his 721 Minor League games at other positions.

Video: ATL@NYM: Mets turn a 4-6-3 double play

"I had no idea how to play it before I signed," said Flores. "The man at the academy just put me there."

That's the Agua Linda Academy in Venezuela, where Flores trained before signing with the Mets at age 16 in 2007. There, the soft-spoken Flores developed an inquisitive nature as his bat blossomed.

"I'm not afraid to ask questions," Flores said.

Those inquiries revolved mainly around two topics: learning English and his new position. Both are still a work in progress, but consider this: Despite no formal education on the subject, Flores now conducts interviews exclusively in his adopted tongue (though he is most comfortable and personable in one-on-one settings). That's uncommon for a Latin player so young, and it's a testament to his ability to absorb information, implement techniques and adapt to new environments.

"He's quiet and smart," said backup shortstop Ruben Tejada. "He's a very smart guy. I help him out, and he helps me out."

Being bilingual helps Flores relate to a diverse clubhouse. And his laid-back personality allows him to continue to blend there. He's used to blending. There are five boys in the Flores family, and four have the first name "Wilmer."

"I'm just a common guy who plays baseball, I think," Flores said.

That mind-set is one thing he hasn't outgrown.

Joe Trezza is an associate reporter for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

New York Mets, Wilmer Flores