- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2008

Left fielder Elijah Dukes will start a rehab assignment today with Class A Potomac, the next step in testing his strained right hamstring and determining how soon he can return to the Washington Nationals’ lineup.

No timetable has been set for when Dukes, who initially injured the hamstring in spring training and went on the disabled list after re-injuring it on Opening Night, might return for the majors.

But considering general manager Jim Bowden said earlier in the week Dukes was “seven to 10 days away at a minimum,” it’s possible he could be activated by next weekend.

Dukes has started to take batting practice while running on a treadmill to test his leg.

He said Thursday he has “no swelling, no tightness,” and declared himself ready to go.

But the Nationals have taken a cautious approach with the 23-year-old, and they don’t figure to activate him until their training staff has declared him 100 percent.

Lo Duca rehab coming

Dukes isn’t the only Nationals player who will soon begin a rehab assignment in Potomac. Catcher Paul Lo Duca will likely head there in the next few days to get some at-bats and see how much his right hand has healed since getting hit by a pitch on April 13.

Manager Manny Acta said Lo Duca has been hitting soft toss and will likely start to take batting practice this weekend.

Lo Duca sustained a right hand contusion when he was hit by a pitch against the Braves and went on the disabled list April 18. He had been available as an emergency catcher, but the bruise prevented him from handling a bat.

O’Connor starts strong

Left-hander Mike O’Connor, called up from Class AAA Columbus on Thursday afternoon, arrived at Nationals Park shortly after 5:30 p.m. and made just his second major league relief appearance three hours later.

It was an eventful one, with O’Connor pitching a scoreless sixth inning and earning his first big league win since 2006.

A day later, O’Connor didn’t fare nearly as well. He was brought in to face left-hander Daryle Ward, but the Cubs countered by removing Ward for Matt Murton, whom O’Connor walked in for the game-tying run in the eighth inning.

Acta was not certain if O’Connor would get the call in back-to-back days, but the George Washington product, who was 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA for Columbus, said he was comfortable adjusting to being a reliever.

“When I got drafted, it was as a reliever,” O’Connor said. “It’s been a couple years since I’ve done it, but I’ve done it in the past. It’s just a matter of being a little more locked in right out of the chute instead of feeling your way around that first time through the order.”

Cordero plays catch

Reliever Chad Cordero reported no problems with his shoulder after playing catch from as far as 150 feet yesterday.

Acta said it would be “at least one outing” before Cordero would resume the closer’s role for the Nationals.

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