Johnson talks Flores’ role, Zimmermann’s health (Leon optioned)

The Nationals announced today that they’ve optioned catcher Sandy Leon to Triple-A Syracuse, making room for Kurt Suzuki on the 25-man roster.

Leon batted .250 (7-for-28) with two doubles, two RBI, three walks and two runs scored in 10 games with the Nats this season.

Jesus Flores claimed after the second game of last night’s doubleheader that he hadn’t yet heard about the Nationals acquiring catcher Kurt Suzuki.

Today, Flores and manager Davey Johnson had what Johnson described as a long conversation in which they discussed the situation and how Flores will be used now that Suzuki has taken over as the Nats’ starting catcher.

“He’s a good young player,” Johnson said of Flores. “I play everybody. We got an established catcher. Jesus was playing very well about three years ago. He’s made great strides in coming back (from a shoulder injury), but he’s not quite where I know he can be. That was basically the conversation.

“He’ll be fine. I’m not worried about it. He’s a big reason why we’re where we’re at now. I just know I was one of the guys that got him over here. I expect him to play at a very high level. I think Jesus has been trying too hard. I’ve had this conversation with numerous guys on this ball club. (Danny Espinosa) is another guy that puts a lot of pressure on himself. The opposition puts the pressure on you. You shouldn’t be putting it on yourself. I want him to relax and be comfortable and enjoy playing the game of baseball.”

I’ve heard that recently the Nationals weren’t thrilled with the way Flores was calling games behind the plate. They felt he sometimes led pitchers away from their fastball and had them throw more off-speed stuff, a strategy which some team officials didn’t particularly like.

Flores, who is batting just .221 with three home runs and 18 RBIs and has thrown out four of 47 attempted basestealers, will now move into the backup job, which he occupied at the beginning of the season prior to Wilson Ramos suffering a season-ending knee injury.

“Your role is predicated on performance,” Johnson said. “The better you play, the bigger the role you get. That’s kind of the way baseball has been played ever since I can remember.”

Jordan Zimmermann takes the ball tonight possessing the best ERA in the majors among starters with enough innings to qualify. He’s been battling some minor shoulder inflammation lately, which has made it tough for him to get loose, but Johnson said he felt great during a bullpen session the other day.

“I’m not really worried about it,” Johnson said. “Even at the height of his problem, he’s still been throwing good. Extra couple days’ rest, feeling a little better, I might be worried he’s too strong, starts rushing or something. Hopefully not. No medical restrictions.”

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