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 in his tenure at shortstop.
The difference came in the eighth, on a rare mental mistake by third baseman David Wright. Instead of throwing across and taking an easy groundout by Andrelton Simmons, Wright pulled up and attempted to tag Jace Peterson as he moved from second to third.
But Peterson danced around the tag, extending the inning long enough for Phil Gosselin to rip a bases-loaded, two-run single off Rafael Montero that put the Braves ahead for good.
Yet as large as Wright's mistake loomed, it paled compared with the calamities that afflicted Flores.
It was Flores who initially put the Mets in a hole by turning every throw into a harrowing exercise in futility. Like a golfer with the dreaded yips, even the most routine motions packed the promise of failure.
Flores committed two throwing errors that led to two unearned runs. Combined with Cameron Maybin's leadoff homer against Jonathon Niese, the Mets found themselves playing catch-up from a 3-0 deficit.
The Mets powered up to even the score in the fourth. Wright snapped a career-worst homerless streak at 203 at-bats, golfing Eric Stults' curveball for a two-run homer. It was his first home run since July 11, a span of 51 games, almost all of them played with a shoulder injury that marred his season.
After four games, the Mets finally had their first homer of the season, though they waited just a minute for the next. John Mayberry Jr. followed with a solo shot to give the Mets back-to-back homers.
But it ultimately wasn't enough to undo all the damage done by Flores, who has three errors in his last two games. All of them were made in the act of throwing.
With the Mets already down 1-0 on Maybin's homer, Flores fielded a routine grounder by Nick Markakis in the first and spiked a throw well wide of first base. With the field still damp after a rain delay pushed back first pitch by 1 hour, 9 minutes, perhaps the ball slipped out of Flores' hand.
That explanation looked less feasible in the third. On Christian Bethancourt's bouncer, Flores rushed his throw and again fired wide to Michael Cuddyer at first base.
If it weren't for Cuddyer, it would have been worse. Flores missed his mark badly after fielding Freddie Freeman's grounder in the fifth, escaping another error only because Cuddyer pulled down the high throw and tagged the runner.
In the sixth, Cuddyer saved Flores again, this time by scooping a low throw that scraped the dirt around first. The shortstop did no favors for Niese, who allowed three runs (one earned) in five innings.
It was a surprising display by Flores, installed as the starting shortstop after the Mets spent a fruitless offseason exploring upgrades.
Historically, Flores 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.
He already has three in 34 innings. Each additional one he makes will provide more ammo to those who believe he's destined to fail.
Flores emerged from a solid spring training brimming with confidence. Now, after two shaky games, it has been tested. And the future of the experiment rests on his response.