With Dukes Comes Outfield Competition

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2008

VIERA, Fla., Feb. 20 -- The arrival of Elijah Dukes to the Washington Nationals' spring training camp Wednesday created a significant media stir, owing to Dukes's well-documented, troubled past, but it also announced the start of a competition for jobs in the team's outfield, where three young, talented players are left to fight for two spots in the lineup.

The Nationals' pre-spring depth chart has 26-year-old Wily Mo Pe¿a as the starting left fielder, with 22-year-old Lastings Milledge in center, though neither has started for a full season in the majors. Veteran Austin Kearns, 28, is entrenched in right. Dukes, 23, is perhaps the most talented outfielder in camp, but partly owing to his off-field issues, is considered a reserve for now.

"We've made it clear we have our three [starters] right now . . . but things can change," Manager Manny Acta said. "And I think before we start talking about starting jobs, [Dukes] has to come in and show that all that ability people talk about is still there."

General Manager Jim Bowden described Dukes as "a 30- to 40-homer power hitter, [an] above-average defender in right, center or left, and he will throw you out at any base, at any time."

Patterson Shows His Support

Pitcher John Patterson missed the start of Wednesday's workout so he could visit with some Special Forces troops at nearby Patrick Air Force who were being deployed to Iraq. Patterson signed autographs and spoke to the troops and their families.

"They were saying goodbye to their families, and I just wanted to thank them and show them my support," Patterson said. "I hope they got something out of it, and I know I did."

Camp Nearly Full

Every position player of consequence had reported to camp by Wednesday's official report day -- or, in the case of shortstop Cristian Guzm¿n, was expected to fly in Wednesday night -- except for catcher Jes¿s Flores, who remains stuck in his native Venezuela because of visa issues.

Right-hander Jes¿s Colome (Dominican Republic) heads the list of pitchers still struggling with visa problems, now that Luis Ayala (Mexico) was expected to arrive Wednesday night.

Newly signed lefty Odalis P¿rez (Dominican Republic) is expected to arrive Friday and take part in his first workout with the team on Saturday. . . .

At 9:06 a.m., as the Nationals were stretching before their workout, the camp was jolted by the sonic boom produced by the Space Shuttle Atlantis during its reentry.

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