Lo Duca out until March

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Nationals catcher Paul Lo Duca could be sidelined for the first month of spring training after undergoing arthroscopic surgery yesterday to repair some partially torn cartilage in his left knee.

Lo Duca tore the medial meniscus in the knee while working out in New York last week. The team said it expects his rehabilitation to take four to six weeks.

The Nationals signed Lo Duca to a one-year, $5 million contract in the offseason after trading Brian Schneider to the Mets. His absence at the beginning of spring training is a blow to a team expected to invite a host of young pitchers to Viera, Fla. The Nationals begin spring training on Feb. 15.

“It’s unfortunate,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “We were really looking forward to [having] Paul around for the whole spring and get to know our young pitching staff. However, we will be fine. Some of our guys will step up and help while Paul is out.”

It is unclear exactly how Lo Duca injured the knee, but he contacted the team Friday after receiving an MRI by a doctor in New York.

A team doctor examined Lo Duca for the first time yesterday morning and agreed surgery was necessary. Dr. Ben Shaffer at Sibley Memorial Hospital in the District performed the procedure.

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said he expects Lo Duca to make a full recovery and return to the field in time to work with the team’s pitching staff.

“We do not think it will have much impact,” Bowden said. “We think he will be ready for Opening Day and will be able to get to know all of our pitchers sufficiently during spring training.”

Lo Duca has been one of the most durable catchers in baseball, appearing in at least 119 games a season since 2001.

He batted .272 in 445 at-bats last year with nine home runs and 54 RBI.

Lo Duca’s agent did not return phone calls or e-mail messages yesterday. Members of the media have not had a chance to speak with Lo Duca since the release of a report that said he purchased human growth hormone from a clubhouse attendant while with the New York Mets.

Lo Duca’s name appeared along with many other players in a report from former Sen. George Mitchell outlining the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

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