MILWAUKEE -- The Nationals' bullpen is a young bunch, and they often show it on and off the field. Look no further for an example of the latter than their recent dramatic reading of the novel "50 Shades of Grey" in the MLB Fan Cave.
"That's a whole new breed out there," manager Davey Johnson said. "They're a crazy bunch."
But crazy isn't necessarily a bad thing in this case, at least not to Johnson.
"I have a lot of riverboat gamblers out there," Johnson said. "They'll throw you a 3-2 breaking ball. I like that mental approach. They kind of take the way they live and take it out there."
The Nationals' relief corps has worked 303 innings this season -- fourth most in the National League -- and posted a 3.45 ERA, ranking them eighth in the NL. Michael Gonzalez is the veteran of the group at 34, and Tom Gorzelanny is the only other reliever older than 29.
But Johnson doesn't look at their ages, he said. He's more interested in how well they bounce back from mistakes and how they handle different situations. After nearly 100 games, Johnson believes his relievers are comfortable in their roles, and that's only going to help the young bullpen improve going forward.
"You never know when you're getting the call," Johnson said. "They pretty much read me now, so I think they're more relaxed when they can kind of tell who's going to go in in what situation."
Flores out of lineup, gets chance to relax
MILWAUKEE -- Jesus Flores was due for a mental break, and that's what he got from Nationals manager Davey Johnson on Friday night.
Johnson decided to sit the scuffling Nationals catcher and start backup Sandy Leon against the Brewers. Flores hasn't had an extra-base hit since June 29, when he hit a double and a homer, and he's batting .160 with three walks and 15 strikeouts in 16 games (15 starts) since then. During that span, Flores has seen his average fall from .250 to .228, and his OPS drop from .672 to .597.
"I just think he's fighting himself too much offensively, and I want him to relax," Johnson said. "I'm sure he wants to play, but I just want him to let go. He's worried about everything under the sun. That's not the way you perform at this level. Keep it simple and relax."
Flores missed three games over the last week due to a sore back, but Johnson assured that he would have Flores back in the starting lineup on Saturday at Miller Park.
Johnson didn't seem to think Flores was letting his offensive struggles affect his work behind the plate, but he did point out that Flores might have taken Carlos Gomez's two-run homer off Henry Rodriguez on Thursday night harder than did Rodriguez.
"Anytime I see a guy pressing a little bit, I want him to relax and come sit next to me then go back out there," Johnson said. "It's really the only way I know."
The Nationals unconditionally released outfielder Rick Ankiel on Friday. Ankiel was designated for assignment July 19 to clear room for Drew Storen's return.
The Brewers traded starter Zack Greinke to the Angels on Friday. Greinke was scheduled to pitch in Sunday's series finale against Washington at Miller Park.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Nationals are only the third team since 1900 to win six or more straight games while scoring at least five runs and allowing two runs or fewer in each game. The 1961 Yankees and 1941 Red Sox are the only other clubs to accomplish that feat.
"It means we've got good pitching and a pretty good offense," manager Davey Johnson said.
Reliever Henry Rodriguez recorded two quick outs in the eighth inning on Thursday night, then hit Rickie Weeks in the shoulder and gave up a two-run homer to Carlos Gomez. He got out of the inning by inducing a groundout from the next batter he faced, enough for Johnson to deem his outing a success.
"Except for the curveball that hit the batter in the head, I thought he threw the ball over," Johnson said Thursday night. "That's all I care about."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.