Lo Duca to Start for Nats; Flores's Role Is Uncertain

Former Mets Paul Lo Duca and Lastings Milledge don their new uniforms.
Former Mets Paul Lo Duca and Lastings Milledge don their new uniforms. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Washington Nationals introduced catcher Paul Lo Duca yesterday, leaving no doubt that the 35-year-old free agent signee would immediately take over the starting job from the departed Brian Schneider.

Manager Manny Acta said Jesus Flores, the 23-year-old reserve who had an impressive major league debut last season, would be given an opportunity to earn a roster spot in spring training, but he also left open the possibility that Flores would begin the season in the minor leagues.

"If he shows up to spring training and he convinces us that the best way to go would be to have him here with Paul, to learn and continue to develop at the big league level, we'll do it," Acta said. "If not, we're fine either way."

Lo Duca was joined yesterday by outfielder Lastings Milledge, whom the Nationals acquired in a trade with the Mets for Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church last month and who played with Lo Duca in New York the past two seasons. Lo Duca strongly endorsed Milledge, who had drawn some criticism from Mets teammates over his decorum.

"I really feel you're going to see a superstar in the making," Lo Duca said. "It's just a matter of him keeping his head on straight, and he knows that. He's going to make a lot of money in this game. He's got a ton of talent. He's the kind of kid that can carry a team, he's got that much talent. And he knows that."

Lo Duca, who has played for winning teams in eight consecutive seasons and has a reputation as a clubhouse leader, said he would defer to current Nationals Ryan Zimmerman and Dmitri Young for leadership. He said he didn't care about his place in the batting order, "as long as I'm in the lineup," and said one of the reasons he chose the Nationals over other suitors such as the Toronto Blue Jays was for the opportunity to face the Mets in division games.

-- Dan Steinberg

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