- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — How antsy is Paul Lo Duca to start playing in spring training games? The Washington Nationals catcher, who is close to returning from offseason knee surgery, showed up at Space Coast Stadium yesterday at 7:30 a.m. for a 7 p.m. ballgame.

“No one was here,” he said. “I was waiting in my car for someone to open it up.”

Lo Duca’s long wait is almost over. He got two at-bats in yesterday morning’s accelerated minor league camp game and picked up two hits off top pitching prospect Garrett Mock. He’s scheduled to play in minor league camp again today and then make his Grapefruit League debut behind the plate tomorrow against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I feel great,” he said. “Maybe this knee [surgery] was a blessing in disguise. My legs are strong. I’ve been working hard. And I’m ready.”

Since suffering a left meniscus tear while working out in January, Lo Duca has been forced to watch while his new teammates got themselves into shape. All along, he was shooting for a March 15 return to the lineup, and it appears he will hit that date exactly.

Lo Duca said he’s not worried about getting his swing down. At this point, he’s more concerned about building up the stamina to catch a full nine innings.

But he won’t take things easy when he returns to the field tomorrow.

“I’m not wearing a knee brace,” he said. “I’m just going to let it go. I’m doing everything. I’m not trying to protect it. I’m a firm believer [if] you protect things, it ends up being a little fragile. I want to be able to play the way I did before that, jumping around, doing all that. Knock on wood, it feels good.”

Redding back in form

After surrendering five runs in three innings last week to the Houston Astros, Tim Redding said he would need to try to “flush” that poor outing out of his system in time for his next start.

He didn’t have much trouble doing just that.

Redding dominated the Florida Marlins last night, tossing five shutout innings and allowing just one single with one walk at Space Coast Stadium.

“Five days from Saturday to here felt like a month,” Redding said. “It wasn’t so much that I was dwelling on the last outing, but the way I was throwing, I knew I was better this spring than what the outcome was.”

The 30-year-old right-hander further made his case for a spot in the Opening Day rotation. He hasn’t allowed a run in two of his three spring training starts and last night struck out four.

“He’s done everything we were expecting him to do,” manager Manny Acta said.

Injury updates

Outfielder Wily Mo Pena strained his left oblique muscle taking batting practice in Viera on Wednesday. He’s listed as day-to-day and doesn’t know when he will be ready to return.

“They just say we have to take it slow now and not push it,” he said. “They just want to take it easy.”

First baseman Dmitri Young, who had been dealing with his own oblique strain for two weeks, returned to the lineup last night as a designated hitter and produced two hits. Young will start at first base today against the Cleveland Indians.

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman likely won’t return to the lineup until this weekend, still dealing with right hip flexor tightness. The injury isn’t considered serious, but the Nationals aren’t taking any chances. “There’s no rush,” Acta said. “We want to make sure he’s OK. If you ask him, he’ll play. I just want to be cautious with that.”

Right-hander Shawn Hill played catch from 90 and 120 feet yesterday and reported no pain in his right forearm. Hill plans to do the same today and hopes to throw off a mound tomorrow.

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