WASHINGTON -- During the end of last season and this past offseason, Nationals manager Davey Johnson often talked about how he wanted to overhaul the bench -- and for good reason. Pinch-hitters, which included players such as Alex Cora, Jonny Gomes and Ivan Rodriguez, hit a combined .188 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 2011.
So far, this year's bench is a different story, with the likes of Chad Tracy, Xavier Nady and Mark DeRosa all contributing. Entering Saturday's action, pinch-hitters were hitting .231 [3-for-13] with a home run and four RBIs. One of those RBIs was a game-winner by Tracy against the Cubs last Saturday.
"It's not a secret that I love my bench this year compared to last year," Johnson said. "It kind of mimics the whole ballclub. The potential is there. It's just a matter of time. [Already], I think I had more production [from the bench] than in the three months I was here last year.
"Tracy got some good hits for us coming off the bench. [Friday] was a big hit. A lot of the guys, even [Stephen Lombardozzi], have gotten hits to help us win ballgames. Last year, groundout, ball four, hit batter. I think [this year's team] feels that we have some ammunition sitting on the bench. [If I make double switches], my offense won't miss a beat."
Asked why this year's bench is superior to last year's bench, Nady said, "We have some guys who have been around for a while. They have done everything. DeRosa has played the infield, outfield. Tracy has done everything himself. He has been to Japan. You play this game long enough, you experience a lot, you go through a lot.
"There are a lot of ups and downs. In all, you hope it makes you a better player down the road. You get thrown into situations like this, you feel like you are more prepared."
Nats infielders draw high praise from Johnson
WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson made a bold statement on Saturday. He said the infield of Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Adam LaRoche is the best infield -- defensively -- he has ever been around, and Johnson has been around some great infields during his 50 years in professional baseball. It seems like the Nats' infield is making acrobatic plays on a regular basis.
In the early 1970s, Johnson was part of an infield that included Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger and Boog Powell while with the Orioles. Johnson also managed a Mets team in 1986 that included Ray Knight, Rafael Santana, Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez. Those teams each won a World Series title.
"I never had an infield this talented. It's that simple," Johnson said about Nationals' infield. "I've had Hall of Famers at different positions, but as a group, I never had an infield that had four guys that could do the things that these guys could do, and that is saying a lot."
When asked about the infields that he was a part of as a player from 1961 to 1978, Johnson said, "In my playing days ... I've been around a lot of good infields. There is no question in my mind [about how the Nats' infield compares]. You can even throw in the whole package. It makes it more special when you include the offense and defensive capabilities."
Backup catcher Flores off to solid start for Nats
WASHINGTON -- Nationals catcher Jesus Flores had one of the best games of his career in a 4-1 victory over the Reds on Saturday.
Flores went 3-for-3, and is now 6-for-10 (.600) with two RBIs on the year. He also called a great game behind the plate, helping right-hander Edwin Jackson pitch his first complete game of the season.
"Flo and myself, we were able to get into the groove throughout the game. The Reds were aggressive and they were swinging," Jackson said.
Flores received a scare in the third inning. He was on third base when Ian Desmond hit a ground ball to Reds shortstop Zack Cozart, who threw the ball home and nailed Flores at the plate. After the play ended, Flores was in pain and stayed on a ground for a couple of minutes before returning to the dugout. It turned out that Flores' right knee collided with catcher Devin Mesoraco's knee.
"I went knee to knee. I hit the shin guard. It kind of hurt my right knee. I should have slid a different way, but it was too late when I did it," Flores said.
Flores said he is OK and will be available to play on Sunday against the Reds.
LaRoche likes what he sees in Nats' clubhouse
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are 7-2 entering Sunday's action, and first baseman Adam LaRoche is already comparing this team to some of the Braves teams that went to the postseason while he was there. LaRoche played October baseball in 2005 and the following season.
Asked how the two clubs compared, LaRoche said, "Really good, but again, it's real early. It's tough to say, but more importantly, everybody in [the Nationals] locker room feel it's a good, special team. We keep that up, we are going to have a lot of wins.
"Again, the pitching has been phenomenal. They picked us up, and that is key. I've been on some other teams that had some really good offenses, but we didn't get a lot of wins. The pitching wasn't there. You have to have good pitching, you have to stay healthy and keep us in these games. It takes pressure off everybody."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.