- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 2, 2009

PITTSBURGH | Elijah Dukes returned to the Washington Nationals on Saturday, and he’s probably here to stay for the remainder of the season. After spending the past month at Class AAA Syracuse, the dynamic outfielder will be a mainstay in right field and in the heart of the Nationals’ lineup the next two months.

In return, Washington wants to see Dukes seize this opportunity and establish his standing within the organization.

“It’s time for Elijah to take that next step in his career,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said before Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh. “I think everyone knows he’s got the physical tools to do it.”

Dukes had played 138 games with 545 plate appearances for the Nationals in the past two seasons going into Saturday. During that time, he produced 19 homers and 74 RBI, not to mention a .356 on-base percentage.

But most of that production has come in brief spurts. Washington officials want to see him sustain those numbers for the long haul before deciding whether the 25-year-old is the long-term answer in right field.

“Elijah’s got a little track record here of being productive,” Riggleman said. “We’d just like him build on that and get his career going.”

Hanrahan back on track

Joel Hanrahan doesn’t much want to talk about it, but he has rediscovered his pitching form since leaving the Nationals and joining the Pirates.

The right-hander had a 7.71 ERA on June 30 when he was traded along with Lastings Milledge to Pittsburgh for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett. His ERA since the deal is a modest 4.66, but he has been scored on in only three of 11 appearances and had seven straight scoreless outings before Friday.

The Pirates are using Hanrahan as a setup man, giving him most of his work in the seventh and eighth innings. He seems to be more comfortable pitching in that role after opening the year as Washington’s closer and then getting bounced back and forth from the job while struggling.

“I think there was a lot of pressure put on their bullpen,” Pirates manager John Russell told reporters last week. “It was openly made public that they needed to pitch better. I think it snowballed on him, and he lost some confidence.”

Hanrahan was friendly Saturday afternoon chatting with ex-teammates and media members who came over to say hello, but he declined to be interviewed.

“I’m good. I’m happy here. I’m over that,” he said, motioning toward the Nationals’ side of the field.

Extra bases

Jordan Zimmermann threw about 40 pitches in the bullpen Saturday afternoon and pronounced his injured elbow fully healthy. The rookie right-hander, on the 15-day disabled list since July 19, will make a rehab start for Class A Potomac on Tuesday at Frederick, after which he believes he’ll be ready to return to the rotation. …

Jorge Sosa, called up from Class AAA Syracuse to fill the bullpen spot vacated by Joe Beimel’s trade to Colorado, could see some action in a setup role but is more likely to serve as a long reliever. Riggleman said Burnett will probably be used in many situations previously manned by Beimel.

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