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NATIONALS NOTEBOOK

Dukes Eager To Return to The Lineup

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By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 29, 2008

All along, Elijah Dukes ignored the timetable. His knee injury -- a torn meniscus and a partial tear of the patellar tendon -- prompted doctors to estimate a four- to six-week absence. Dukes wanted to shrink that estimate in half.

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Dukes has approached his recovery with such ambition -- he began a minor league rehab assignment on Saturday, less than three weeks after surgery -- that the Washington Nationals want Dukes to proceed with caution. Dukes, 24, hitting .263 with six home runs, is one of the team's most promising assets.

"He obviously is a very quick healer," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "You have to always hold him back. I think the day after he was operated on he wanted to go take left field in the big leagues. It's hard to control him because he's such a competitor and he always wants to be on the field."

The Nationals have given previous players recovering from injury -- Ryan Zimmerman, most recently -- the right to determine when they're ready to play.

In his first two games with Washington's Gulf Coast affiliate in Florida, Dukes went 0 for 5. But performance will determine Dukes's return to the majors less than his physical shape, and so far, reports are good. Dukes could return to Washington by the end of the six-game homestand that begins tonight.

Nothing But Bad Luck

The statistic that measures rotten luck ranks Jason Bergmann first. No other starter who's pitched more than 25 innings this season has received poorer run support. And that's required the Washington right-hander, who took another undeserving loss Sunday (six innings, two runs), to separate feelings about his performance from feelings about his record. Despite a 3.81 ERA as a starter, Bergmann (1-8) is winless in his last 12 starts. The Nationals, 2-13 when Bergmann starts, have supported their pitcher with 19 runs this season.

"I set out and do my job and aside from hitting a three-run home run I did everything I could," Bergmann said after the latest setback. "It's not fun. But nobody's here trying to lose."


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