- The Washington Times - Friday, May 2, 2008

Dmitri Young’s season-long struggle with back pain finally has taken a positive turn, and for that the Washington Nationals first baseman can thank the team’s masseuse.

Young, who had made virtually no progress over the last month in his recovery from a strained lower back, enjoyed a breakthrough moment Wednesday when Nationals massage therapist Tatiana Tchamouroff worked on his hip flexor for the first time. Young felt immediate relief and was subsequently able to hit balls in a batting cage with authority for the first time in weeks.

“Once she worked on my hip, that was it,” he said. “It fixed everything. It made all the difference.”

Young, whose bobblehead likeness was given away to fans last night, has progressed so much that the Nationals now plan to send him to Viera, Fla., on Sunday and have him play in extended spring training games within days. Plans had been made earlier Wednesday to send Young to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to get a third opinion on his back, but the team canceled that.

There is still no formal timetable for Young’s return, but it appears that could happen much sooner now than club officials believed Wednesday morning.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “I certainly didn’t think it was going to come from a massage therapist.”

Lo Duca ready to go

The Nationals played with only 24 healthy bodies last night for the second straight game, but that should change today when Paul Lo Duca comes off the 15-day disabled list.

Lo Duca, out since April 13 with a bruised right hand, went 0-4 in his third rehab start for Class A Potomac last night, serving as designated hitter. If everything is OK, the club will activate him in time for tonight’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and place closer Chad Cordero (torn muscle below his right shoulder) on the DL.

Lo Duca’s return will give Washington three catchers. He will get the bulk of the starts behind the plate, with Johnny Estrada and Wil Nieves getting occasional work. Estrada will be used extensively as a pinch-hitter with Nieves a possible late-inning defensive replacement.

Bowden said the club will proceed with three catchers for now.

“I don’t prefer three catchers as a GM in general,” he said. “If I were to build an infrastructure, it would be with two. But with this particular club, I think three makes a lot of sense because they all bring something different to the table.”

Meanwhile, Elijah Dukes was set to join Lo Duca in the Potomac lineup last night but will be bumped up to Class AAA Columbus starting today. Bowden said he wants the outfielder, on the DL with a strained hamstring, to face better pitching and produce at the plate before returning to Washington.

Lannan, Chico swap

The Nationals flip-flopped their starting pitchers for the next two games, so John Lannan now will start tonight with Matt Chico following tomorrow.

The switch gives Chico an extra day to prepare for what could be an important outing. The left-hander is 0-5 with a 6.68 ERA and could be in danger of losing his job.