- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

To offer some extra help and encouragement to the Washington Nationals for their hitting woes, special assistant to the general manager Barry Larkin stopped by Nationals Park to meet with several players yesterday.

General manager Jim Bowden invited Larkin, an 12-time All-Star with the Reds, to make a two-day visit while traveling to evaluate several middle infielder prospects in the organization. Larkin took a similar stance to what manager Manny Acta and hitting coach Lenny Harris have said — that the results (namely a .229 batting average entering Monday’s game) aren’t indicative of how the team is really hitting.

It will come around. These guys are professional hitters, and they can hit, Larkin said. I’m not going to come in here and tell anybody anything different than they’ve heard before. It’s a matter of execution. It’s a matter of relaxing.

Larkin also offered support for Harris, who has been criticized for the team’s offensive performance. The two played together for parts of seven seasons with the Reds, and Larkin said Harris is limited in what he can do to fix the situation.

Guys got here because of what they did in the past, Larkin said. That’s his message to the guys — don’t make wholesale changes, tweak this, that and the other. The unfortunate thing for Lenny Harris is when the team struggles, it’s his fault. And when the team hits well, the players are doing well. I don’t envy his position at all, and I tell him that all the time.

It’s tough being a player and being judged on your own merit to going to being a coach and being judged on what other people do. You don’t have control over that. That’s the situation he’s in. But he’s a pro.

King released

Reliever Ray King, who cleared waivers after he was outrighted to Class AAA Columbus, chose to declare himself a free agent rather than accepting his assignment.

King was originally sent to the minors Thursday after the Nationals decided they didn’t have room for a situational left-hander in their bullpen. Mike O’Connor was called up to take his place.

King, 34, made the team out of spring training after signing a minor league contract worth $850,000 before the season. Injuries to closer Chad Cordero forced the Nationals to use King in a broader role than just facing lefties, but right-handers hit .500 against him.

Lo Duca, Dukes try again

Catcher Paul Lo Duca and left fielder Elijah Dukes were rained out of their rehab appearances Monday with Class A Potomac, and both took part in the first game of a doubleheader against Winston-Salem yesterday.

Dukes went 2-for-4 — including a game-winning RBI single — in the first game, while Lo Duca was 0-for-3.

Acta said Lo Duca would play only the first game of the doubleheader and Dukes would DH in one of the games.

Lefties galore

The scheduled pitching matchups later this week between the Nationals and Pirates could make a small bit of history. Both teams are scheduled to start left-handers in the first three games of the four-game series, marking the first time since Aug. 5-7, 1995, that two teams have started lefties in three consecutive games.

The last instance came when Atlanta’s Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and Kent Mercker faced Montreal’s Butch Henry, Carlos Perez and Jeff Fassero.

It would be the first time three straight lefty-vs.-lefty matchups have happened in the District.

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