- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

  • Nats Home Plate:Live Chat with Mark Zuckerman at 1 p.m.

    NEW YORK — Paul Lo Duca will have to wait at least another day to find out what New York Mets fans think of him.

    The Washington Nationals catcher wasn’t in the lineup last night at Shea Stadium, his swollen right hand unable to squeeze a bat well enough to allow him to play.

    Lo Duca, who was hit by a pitch during Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Braves, tried to take batting practice in an underground tunnel yesterday but said he didn’t feel confident he could come to the plate in a game situation.

    “I just can’t swing a bat right the way I’d want to,” he said. “So I’m not going to go out there and jeopardize my teammates.”

    Backup Johnny Estrada started behind the plate last night, his first start of the season. Lo Duca, whose hand remains swollen and discolored but is not broken, hopes he can return to the lineup tonight.

    His inability to play last night surely disappointed the New York media, which surrounded Lo Duca before the game and peppered the ex-Mets player with questions about his two years here and his acrimonious departure over the winter.

    Lo Duca, one of the primary players fingered in the Mitchell Report, was curious to see how Mets fans would greet him the first time he stepped to the plate. A popular player during his time in New York, he didn’t know whether the fans would turn against him now.

    They did with Lo Duca’s fellow ex-Met and teammate, Lastings Milledge, who was greeted with resounding boos each time he came to bat.

    Hill likely to pitch

    Having successfully made it through two minor league rehab starts, Shawn Hill is likely to be activated off the disabled list this weekend and start for the Nationals on Saturday against the Florida Marlins.

    “Tentatively, I think that’s what we’re looking at,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “But no final decision’s been made.”

    Hill, out since spring training with a sore right forearm, allowed five earned runs and nine hits in six innings Sunday while pitching for Class AAA Columbus. But he said his arm felt fine, aside from some minor tightness, both during and after the 89-pitch outing, an encouraging sign.

    “It has gotten better each time out,” he said. “It’s not going away each night, but it is improving. I’m not bothered by it right now.”

    Hill hasn’t been officially told he’s starting this weekend, but he’s begun watching video of Marlins hitters in preparation for the potential start in Miami.

    “It’s their call,” he said. “But I think I’m good to go.”

    Dukes to Florida

    Elijah Dukes jogged at a significant pace yesterday afternoon, further evidence the injured outfielder is closer to returning from a strained hamstring.

    But the Nationals still had Dukes leave New York last night and head to Florida, where he will continue working out in warmer temperatures and then rejoin the team Friday in Miami.

    “I just have the fear in this cold weather at night that he’s going to run and hit out here, and all of a sudden something’s going to happen,” Bowden said. “I’ve seen it too many times. He wants to get back. He’s worked so hard.”


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