ATLANTA - For the Wilmer Flores Experiment to have any chance of success, the Mets shortstop must fulfill two conditions.
First, he must hit. Second, he must overcome his slow-footedness with steady-handedness. This is the only way it can work. There is little margin for error.
Now, four games into the season, the experiment faces its first critical test. In the Mets' 5-3 loss to the Braves on Friday night, Flores looked more rattled than at any other point during his tenure at shortstop.
"I'm not going to make excuses," Flores said after two throwing errors led to two unearned runs. "I'm not going to start making them now. I just made a bad throw. That's it."
The Braves scored the winning runs in the eighth, when David Wright got burned for trying to make a big play.
With one down and the score tied 3-3, Jace Peterson stood on second base as the go-ahead run. When Andrelton Simmons hit a bouncer to third, Wright could have thrown across for an easy out. Instead, he tried to tag Peterson, only to see him sidestep the attempt.
The play extended the inning long enough for Phil Gosselin to rip a two-run single with the bases loaded against Rafael Montero. The hit pushed the Braves ahead for good.
"You have a split-second to make a decision," Wright said. "I made a decision and it turned out to be the incorrect one."
As large as Wright's mistake loomed, it paled in comparison with miscues that doomed Flores. Like a golfer with the dreaded yips, even the most routine throws proved harrowing.
His mistakes put the Mets in a 3-0 hole. They closed the gap in the fourth on back-to-back homers by Wright and John Mayberry Jr. But the miscues proved too much to overcome on a night when Jonathon Niese battled with his command, allowing three runs (though only one earned) in five innings.
"We gave them some extra outs two or three times," manager Terry Collins said. "At this level, you're going to get beat if you do that."
While Flores' range has raised question marks, his throwing had always been viewed as steady. But in the last two games, he has committed three throwing errors.
And that doesn't include two other errant throws that would have gone as errors had it not been for a pair of saves by first baseman Michael Cuddyer.
"I don't think it's in his head just yet," said Collins, who chalked up the poor throws to bad habits.
Even in spring training, Collins said that after fielding grounders, Flores fell into the habit of watching runners instead of simply reacting. In the last two days, he's paid the price for it.
Flores' first error came in the first, when he spiked a throw after fielding a grounder by Nick Markakis. The next mistake came in the third, when Flores knocked down Christian Bethancourt's grounder with plenty of time to make a good throw. Instead, he rushed it and pulled Cuddyer well off the bag.
It was a surprising display by Flores, installed as the starting shortstop after the Mets spent a fruitless offseason exploring upgrades. Historically, he has compensated for his lack of range by making the routine play.
In 443 1/3 innings at short last season, he committed only four errors. This season, in just 34 innings, he already has three. That's one more than he has hits for the season.
Flores emerged from spring training brimming with confidence. Now, after two shaky games, it has been tested. The future of the experiment rests on his response. His first chance should come Saturday.
"I just made two bad throws," Flores said. "I'll make the plays tomorrow."
Sign up for Newsday’s Mets Messages for updates directly to your phone via text, free with a Newsday digital subscription. Learn more at newsday.com/metstext.