- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

The Washington Nationals placed left fielder Elijah Dukes on the 15-day disabled list last night, hoping the time will allow him to heal the right hamstring injury that bothered him through spring training and forced him out of the team’s 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Dukes left after the sixth inning, saying the hamstring tightness wasn’t allowing him to accelerate. He was applying heat pads to his legs while he was on the bench but said that didn’t help loosen his leg in the cold weather.

“That’s not my game, not being able to get down the line and not getting the balls,” he said. “If I can’t go, I’ve obviously got to step back and take my time.”

Manager Manny Acta said Willie Harris will start today in left field and see the majority of the at-bats in Dukes’s absence.

Reliever Chris Schroder will be called up from Class AAA Columbus to fill Dukes’ roster spot.

Chico takes on Phillies

It’s not that Matt Chico wasn’t excited for the Washington Nationals’ first game in their new stadium last night; he had been looking forward to Opening Day at Nationals Park as much as anyone. It’s just that last night, with all the popping flashbulbs, historic footnotes and congratulatory handshakes, wasn’t his Opening Day.

That will come today at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, where Chico is responsible for shutting down the same kind of celebratory atmosphere his teammates basked in last night.

It’s as important a start for the left-hander as last night’s was for Odalis Perez. Chico’s well-documented delivery overhaul, which included re-introducing the high leg kick he used in high school, will get its first strenuous test today against the defending NL East champion Phillies and heavy hitters like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell.

He did some additional tinkering with the delivery in his bullpen session last Sunday, which included coiling his left leg back more than he was. But the biggest sign of how it’s working will be how Chico fares against a legitimate lineup for his entire start.

“Those guys are going to be coming out swinging,” he said. “I’ve got to be ready for that.”

Chico was 1-0 against the Phillies last season with a 4.22 earned-run average in two starts.

Hill in town for opener

After throwing 50 pitches in a minor league game in Viera, Fla., on Saturday, starter Shawn Hill flew to Washington for the team’s opener. Hill, who has missed the whole spring with soreness in his forearm, knew he would have made the Opening Day start if he had been healthy. But he didn’t show any disappointment about watching from the dugout.

“When I got into camp, I was already starting to hurt a little bit,” Hill said. “So I never really got my mind set 100 percent on it. I was looking forward to it, if it happened. So it’s not overly disappointing in that sense.”

Hill said he still feels pain in his arm, but he has been able to pitch through it and said he doesn’t expect it to hinder him through the season. He has two more rehab starts — four innings this Thursday in Florida and April 8 with Class A Potomac — and is still on track to make his season debut on April 13.

“As the game went on, my velocity was about the same,” he said. “But I got better command and more of my movement by the time the third inning came around. I was just getting better extension. You kind of learn to accept it a little bit.”

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