The talk about Elijah Dukes usually is about his explosiveness — raw power cased in a 6-foot-1, 240-pound frame. When the Washington Nationals outfielder stands at home plate, hands gripping a black maple bat, there’s rarely much middle ground. Something, good or bad, is going to happen.
This season, it has been mostly bad. Baited by curveballs that dive under his aggressive swing, Dukes has watched his numbers and his place in the batting order languish as he grasps for what’s preventing him from cashing in on his seemingly limitless potential.
It was Dukes‘ patience, smarts and speed — in that order — that put him in position to score on Guillermo Mota’s ninth-inning wild pitch. Those aren’t the gifts most people talk about with the 23-year-old, but they helped the Nationals recover from a blown 6-0 lead and win the third of a four-game series against the Brewers.
“It always feels good to hit that winning home run,” Dukes said. “But to get that good walk and have somebody drive you in … it feels even better. It kind of pumps the team up to say we don’t all have to hit the long ball. We can just out-hustle people and win, too.”
After starting his at-bat with a swinging strike, Dukes kept the bat on his shoulder for five pitches, four of them balls, to draw a one-out walk.
“We like to go first to third. We emphasize scoring from second on a single, secondary leads and stuff like that,” manager Manny Acta said. “We believe in that kind of stuff, and he’s a perfect guy to do all that.”
On the next pitch, he took a generous lead off third as the Brewers‘ infield prepared for Felipe Lopez’s bunt. He had noticed Mota had been gripping his fastball too tight and stood a chance of throwing one in the dirt. When Mota bounced a splitter in front of the plate, Dukes sprinted home and into a chest bump from Lastings Milledge.
It saved what looked like a sure win for the Nationals through the first five innings.
Two of the Nationals’ other struggling outfielders — Milledge and Wily Mo Pena — ripped a pair of doubles to drive in three runs in the fourth, and Aaron Boone hit his fourth homer of the year in the fifth.
Starter Tim Redding had a 6-0 lead heading into the sixth — the one inning that has been a hole in his resume all year.
Opponents are hitting .371 and slugging .857 off him in the sixth, numbers that escalated yesterday when he gave up five runs.
“The first five innings [were] productive. The sixth inning, absolutely horrible,” Redding said. “There’s no excuse to put us in a situation where we have a 6-0 lead, and we’ve got to fight back in the bottom of the ninth to win the game.”
Redding gave up a two-run homer to Hart but had a chance to escape the inning with just those runs when he allowed a pinch-hit single to Joe Dillon. Then he hit Rickie Weeks with a pitch, leaving runners on first and second who scored when Mike Cameron doubled off Saul Rivera.View Entire Story
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