Dukes Is Injured in Nats' Loss

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Josh Fogg releases a pitch against the Washington Nationals in the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, July 5, 2008 in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/David Kohl)
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Josh Fogg releases a pitch against the Washington Nationals in the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, July 5, 2008 in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/David Kohl) (David Kohl - AP)
By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 6, 2008

CINCINNATI, July 5 -- Washington Nationals outfielder Elijah Dukes, considered the team's best player by his manager during the past month, left Saturday's game on a motorized cart -- his right leg motionless and his teammates numb. In a sequence that deflated an already shriveled roster, Dukes crashed into the outfield wall, crumbled to the ground and left his teammates to fight through a demoralizing 3-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

Dukes, Washington's left fielder and No. 3 hitter, was determined to have a meniscus tear and a partial tear of the patella tendon, a knee injury that will send him to the disabled list and keep him out for a minimum of four to six weeks. His knee will be scoped on Monday.

"He said he felt a pop on his right knee, and that's serious stuff," Manager Manny Acta said.

Dukes's injury, which presumably will lead to the Nationals' 19th disabled list move of the season, provided a blow just before the ninth inning provided a blow of its own. After Washington rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the top of the ninth to tie the score, relief pitcher Luis Ayala allowed a Brandon Phillips single to left that drove in Jerry Hairston Jr. An on-the-mark throw from left fielder Willie Harris skipped past catcher Jesús Flores, sending the 37,121 at Great American Ball Park into party mode. Washington, one player short, retreated to a somber clubhouse.

"It's very unfortunate, because he was playing very well for us, and the way our offense is going he's going to be missed," Acta said of Dukes. "That's the way things have gone."

Immediately after Dukes left the game, he was evaluated by Tim Kremchek, an orthopedist and the Reds' team physician. Washington's players showered, changed and filed out of the clubhouse -- some making cryptic jokes about the need for a miracle pill. This season, the Nationals' injury list nearly has duplicated the roster itself. Players have injured elbows, shoulders, groins, forearms, calves, hamstrings, backs, obliques and wrists. Dukes was batting third Saturday night only because the two previous No. 3 hitters are both on the disabled list.

"We lost the ballgames, and hopefully we didn't lose a teammate for a while," said pitcher Tim Redding, who lasted six innings, limiting the Reds to one run. "I'm not worried about how I did. I'm worried about Elijah Dukes right now. It's definitely a blow. We've had enough injuries already for any team in a whole season, let alone in the first three months. And to see a kid go down who is passionate about winning and lays it out on the line day in and day out, you go home, pray and hope he's doing all right."

With the score tied in the seventh inning, Cincinnati's Jay Bruce drove a Saúl Rivera slider to deep left field. The fly pushed Dukes beyond the warning track, and when he raised his glove to catch the ball, the backward momentum rammed him against the out-of-town scoreboard fencing. He smacked the wall, hands splayed, and his right leg buckled against the fence in the middle of an awkward half-step.

Dukes grimaced and crumpled to the ground. Center fielder Roger Bernadina rushed over. Washington trainer Lee Kuntz did, too. Dukes remained on the warning track, holding his right knee. "It's hurt, it's hurt," Dukes kept saying, according to Bernadina. After several minutes, he was lifted into a green and yellow motorized cart and removed through an opening in the left-center field fence.

By game's end, he was being evaluated by Kremchek, who this season has become a relevant figure in numerous transactions, aiding Ryan Zimmerman's recovery from a small labral tear and performing elbow surgery on right fielder Austin Kearns.

The team's intimate relationship with the disabled list explains its current whereabouts -- at the bottom of the standings, at the bottom of the league batting average totals. Assuming Dukes will need extensive recovery time, eight of nine members of Washington's Opening Day starting lineup will have spent time on the disabled list.

In fact, injuries explain much of the reason why Dukes has ascended this season into the middle of Washington's batting order. Before Dukes became the team's No. 3 hitter, Zimmerman was there. When Zimmerman suffered his shoulder injury, Lastings Milledge slid into the void. When Milledge suffered a groin injury last weekend, Dukes assumed the role.

"I've never seen anything like this," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "It's one thing if it's older veterans, but all of our 23-year-old kids -- Zimmerman, Milledge, [Shawn] Hill, [Chad] Cordero -- they're all in their low- or mid-20s. It's very rare, and it's unfortunate."

After the team lost Dukes, it responded with a quick counterpunch. Facing a 2-1 deficit against Cincinnati closer Francisco Cordero (4-1), the Nationals scored just their second run of the past two games thanks to Dmitri Young's walk, Kearns's single and Flores's sacrifice fly. But a half-inning later, Cincinnati ended the game with a walk-off single, and Washington headed to its clubhouse, concerned about the one player who hadn't walked off.

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