The Washington Times - August 1, 2009, 03:29PM

When last we saw Elijah Dukes, he was slumping badly at the plate. And on the morning he was to be optioned to Class AAA Syracuse, he reported late to Land Shark Stadium in Miami and was fined by then-manager Manny Acta and acting GM Mike Rizzo and then sent down anyways.

In the month since that move, Dukes got his game back together. In 20 games with the Chiefs, he ht .279 with three homers, 10 RBI, a .388 on-base percentage and a really nice .917 OPS.

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So when the Nats needed a position player to take the roster spot vacated by Nick Johnson, Dukes got the call. He’s joining the team in Pittsburgh today and will start in right field and bat sixth tonight against the Pirates. Interim manager Jim Riggleman said last night that Dukes will get the bulk of the playing time in right field. Clearly, the organization wants to take the next two months to get a better idea how this guy has progressed.

I said it back at the beginning of the season, and I’ll say it again now: By the end of this year, the Nationals need to decide whether Dukes is a part of the long-term solution or whether he’s not. The only way to do that is to get him out there as much as possible and see how he produces over time. Not in little spurts here and there, but over the long haul. The worst scenario would be for the season to end with Dukes having gotten less than 300 at-bats and the Nats to be left saying: “Well, we didn’t really see enough of him to know whether he’s legit or not.”

It’s put-up or shut-up time for Dukes, an immensely talented player who when he’s on is as good as anybody on the field but also is prone to slumps and of course other issues off the field. If he produces on the field, the Nats can deal with the other stuff. If he can’t produce, then the extra baggage isn’t worth the trouble.

With that, here are tonight’s lineups…

NATIONALS

CF Nyjer Morgan

SS Cristian Guzman

3B Ryan Zimmerman

1B Adam Dunn

LF Josh Willingham

RF Elijah Dukes

C Josh Bard

2B Alberto Gonzalez

P Craig Stammen

PIRATES

CF Andrew McCutchen

LF Lastings Milledge

1B Garrett Jones

C Ryan Doumit

2B Delwyn Young

3B Andy LaRoche

RF Brandon Moss

SS Ronny Cedeno

P Virgil Vasquez