ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. | For a player who spent only 52 major league games with the Tampa Bay Rays, Elijah Dukes’ first game against them generated plenty of attention.
The Washington Nationals’ center fielder, whose much-publicized four years in the Rays organization were marked more by off-field incidents than on-field highlights, returned to Tropicana Field on Friday for the first time since the Rays traded him to Washington for pitcher Glenn Gibson in December 2007.
His return was greeted with plenty of scrutiny about the outfielder’s checkered past - a story in Friday’s St. Petersburg Times detailed Dukes’ numerous troubles when he was with the Rays, including a number of child support lawsuits that remain in litigation and have resulted in the outfielder making a pair of hefty payments this year to avoid jail time for being in contempt of court. Dukes was booed in his first at-bat in the first inning and jeered again minutes later after he drove in two runs with a double to center.
Dukes did not speak to reporters before the game, but team president Stan Kasten and manager Manny Acta gave clean opinions of the 24-year-old’s time with Washington.
“He hasn’t been associated with anything bad or questionable or negative since he’s joined us,” Kasten said. “A lot of that is the structure that we put in place, the support system, but the lion’s share goes to Elijah himself. Whether it’s his experience or growing up or determination to succeed, I think it’s been a positive for him as well as for us.”
Dukes entered the Rays series in a 6-for-34 slump since he returned from a strained left hamstring, including a 0-for-5 showing with three strikeouts on Thursday.
Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, who was bumped from his scheduled start last Tuesday with elbow stiffness, said he’s ready to pitch Saturday without problems.
Zimmermann said he threw between 15 and 20 pitches in the bullpen on Thursday and felt no lingering effects of the soreness that cropped up before the June 2 game with the Giants.
Acta said right-hander Kip Wells will take a day off Saturday after throwing two innings for Class A Potomac in a rehab appearance on Thursday night. Wells has been on the disabled list since June 2 with a right adductor strain.
Left-hander Scott Olsen is also scheduled to go to Class AAA Syracuse for his next rehab start, Acta said; Olsen has been on the DL since May 18 with left shoulder tendinitis and would pitch for the Chiefs on Sunday. He threw three scoreless innings at Potomac on June 2.
Rizzo, Maddon linked
Nationals acting general manager Mike Rizzo, once upon a time, was an infielder in the then-California Angels’ minor league system - though not a very good one by his own admission.
Rizzo was in the Angels’ organization from 1982 to 1984, never advancing above high Class A ball. He was, however, on the Salem Angels team that won the Northwest League Northern division title in 1982.
And who was Rizzo’s manager? None other than Rays manager Joe Maddon, who spent 12 years as a minor league manager or instructor before joining the Angels’ major league coaching staff for another 12 seasons and finally getting his major league managerial shot in 2005.
By Mark Mix
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