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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Flores is quietly successful

Flores is quietly successful
By Joe Strauss

April 6, 2008 -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa (left foreground) signals for reliever Ryan Franklin in the bullpen to come in for lefty specialist Randy Flores (34) who retired the only batter he faced.
(Chris Lee /P-D)

HOUSTON — The better Randy Flores pitches, the less he prefers to talk about it.

So earlier this week, Flores offered the club good news when asked about his recent exploits.

"I'm glad things have started well for the team but as far as my personal situation goes, I'd really rather not say a whole lot," Flores said. "I don't want to say I'm happy about what's gone on because it's such a small sampling. If you don't mind, I'd rather wait awhile."

Flores, 50 percent of the Cardinals' lefthanded bullpen contingent, entered Tuesday night's game at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros with three appearances totaling five outs.

Brevity does not convey their degree of difficulty.

Beginning with the Cardinals' first-game loss to the Colorado Rockies, Flores has pitched with little margin for error and acquitted himself well, allowing no hits and one walk while striking out consecutive hitters in his first appearance and recording a one-pitch save in his second. More important, Flores appears poised to recapture the confidence eroded by an indifferent finish to 2007.

Rather than discuss results, Flores prefers to talk process.

"I'm working on things that will hopefully allow me to be more consistent," he said. "I don't want to get too hung up on results because it's so early, but I can say I'm pleased with how I'm going about it."

Flores and closer Jason Isringhausen are the only remaining bullpen ties to the 2004 season. A pitching nomad with 28 major-league appearances when the Cardinals signed him as a minor-league free agent in November 2003, the former first-round draft pick and wins leader at Southern Cal has 197 outings with his current club. This month's approach has more closely resembled his solid 2005 — when he allowed lefthanded batters a .173 average — than his last two, less convincing seasons.

"For Randy to be at his best, his breaking pitch needs to be consistent," said pitching coach Dave Duncan. "That's what I've seen so far."

Flores inherited a bases-loaded situation with none out in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game in his first appearance. Flores nearly escaped a jam not of his making by striking out shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and first baseman Todd Helton before a walk to rookie second baseman Jayson Nix forced home the winning run.

Flores followed by getting the last out of Saturday's 5-4 win over Washington Nationals for his fourth career save, then secured an important out in the eighth inning of Sunday's 3-0 win that completed a series sweep.

"It's good to be put in situations like that and deliver," Flores said before a pause. "But like I said, I don't want to make too much of it right now."

Flores' history has been one of strong Aprils followed by speed bumps in May and June. He absorbed a 5.06 ERA last May and an 8.31 ERA in June, leaving him with a 4.25 season ERA. Now considered more of a specialist with fellow lefthander Ron Villone handling longer stints, Flores must improve on last year's .326 average allowed to lefthanded hitters.

For now, Flores considers it a topic for another day.

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