Nationals' Lo Duca Injures Knee

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Washington Nationals catcher Paul Lo Duca injured his left knee during a workout this week and is undergoing a series of tests to determine the severity of the problem, the club said yesterday.

Lo Duca, signed to a one-year, $5 million contract last month, was working out in New York when he suffered the injury. Andrew Pearle, the associate team physician for the New York Mets -- Lo Duca's team the previous two years -- performed an MRI exam yesterday. Lo Duca, 35, will be in Washington early next week to undergo more tests, which will be administered by Nationals orthopedist Ben Shaffer.

Though the Nationals are being cautious, Lo Duca is able to walk, and he indicated in conversations with the team that had this happened during the season he thought he would be able to play.

Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden declined comment on the situation, and club officials said they would offer an evaluation only after Shaffer's exam. Lo Duca's agent, Andrew Mongelluzzi, did not return e-mail or phone messages.

Since appearing at a news conference Dec. 11 in Washington to announce his new deal, Lo Duca has been out of public view. Two days later, former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell released his report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

Lo Duca was mentioned prominently in the report, which contained testimony from former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk J. Radomski, as well notes from Lo Duca to Radomski. Radomski said he "engaged in six or more transactions" with Lo Duca. The report said Radomski sent performance-enhancing substances to Lo Duca's home and the clubhouse of the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom Lo Duca played from 1998 to 2004. Radomski also said Lo Duca referred him to four other players who became customers.

Nationals President Stan Kasten said the club did not know Lo Duca would be mentioned in the report when it signed him. He also said the club would leave a response up to Lo Duca, but neither Lo Duca nor Mongelluzzi has returned repeated messages seeking comment. It is possible Lo Duca won't address the situation until pitchers and catchers report to spring training Feb. 15 in Viera, Fla.

The Nationals also announced they agreed to terms with 12 players on the 40-man roster who have between zero and three years of major league service time, meaning they are not yet eligible for arbitration. That leaves just three unsigned players -- infielder Felipe Lopez and reliever Jon Rauch, who are both eligible for arbitration, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who is entering his third full season.

Lopez is asking for $5.2 million and the Nationals have offered $4.9 million; his arbitration hearing is set for Feb. 13. Rauch is asking for $1.4 million and the club countered with $1.1 million; his hearing would be Feb. 6. The club is negotiating with both players.

The case of Zimmerman, however, will be more important to the club's long-term future. The runner-up for National League rookie of the year honors in 2006, he and the club attempted to negotiate a long-term deal last offseason before the club, as is its right, "renewed" his deal, paying him $400,000 for 2007, $20,000 above what was then the league minimum.

There have been no substantive negotiations on a long-term deal for Zimmerman this offseason, though that could change as spring training approaches. Barring a long-term deal for Zimmerman, the club could renew him again or sign him to a more lucrative one-year deal. If he doesn't sign a multi-year contract, Zimmerman will be eligible for arbitration after this season.

The players who agreed to terms were right-handers Jason Bergmann, Tyler Clippard, Enrique Gonzalez, Joel Hanrahan, Shawn Hill and Saul Rivera, lefty Matt Chico, outfielders Roger Bernadina, Elijah Dukes, Garrett Guzman and Justin Maxwell and catcher Jesus Flores.

-- Barry Svrluga

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