MILWAUKEE — Nationals catcher Jesus Flores spent most of his pre-game clubhouse time Friday relaxing in a chair by his locker using his iPad. He was not in the starting lineup.
At one point, Nationals manager Davey Johnson came over to say a few words and explain why he wasn’t in there. The message was simple, and one Johnson has been trying to get across to Flores for some time: relax.
“I just think he’s fighting himself too much offensively,” Johnson said. “Relax. He’s pressing.”
Flores is having a rough July at the plate. While dealing with some lower back stiffness that has kept him out of a few games lately, Flores is 7-for-47 in 15 games this month and he has not had an extra-base hit since June 29.
Flores, who missed the better part of two years of his career to injury, wants to do better. The Nationals know that he can. On the season, Flores is hitting .228 with a .267 on-base percentage and a .330 slugging percentage. Since becoming the everyday catcher after Wllson Ramos was lost to injury, Flores is hitting slightly better (.233/.268/.349).
But what Johnson has been seeing out of him lately has led him to believe that a “mental break” would be prudent.
“I’m sure he wants to play,” Johnson said. “I just want him to let it go a little better. (He) worries about everything under the sun… Relax, keep it simple and play.
Flores is hitting (and slugging) .149 in the month of July. In 51 plate appearances, he’s struck out 14 times and walked twice.
“When you’re worrying about your stance, you’re worried about your approach, it’s very hard to hit,” Johnson said, adding that Flores would be back in the lineup to catch Jordan Zimmermann in his Miller Park debut on Saturday.
“A lot of times, any time I see a guy pressing a little mentally I want him to relax. ‘Come sit next to me and then go back out there.’ That’s the only really way I know. I call it a mental break and that’s basically what it is. These guys are young and strong and healthy and work out. Physically you don’t need a break.”
Johnson shot down the idea that any of Flores’ offensive struggles have followed him behind the plate and if they have it’d be tough to tell from the results. The last seven starts the Nationals’ starters have allowed two earned runs or less for a 1.13 ERA.
Flores took it hard when Carlos Gomez hit a two-run homer off Henry Rodriguez on Thursday night, Johnson said, and it’s those types of things that the catcher also takes to heart.
“That’s also being a little tense,” Johnson said.