- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2008

His right leg healed ahead of schedule for a second time, outfielder Elijah Dukes returned to the Washington Nationals‘ lineup Wednesday hoping to make it through the rest of the season without another injury derailing his chance to prove what he can do when he’s healthy.

Dukes, whom the Nationals activated from the 15-day disabled list, beat the prognosis on his strained right calf, coming back in just less than four weeks after he was expected to miss four to six weeks. That mirrors what he did earlier this month, when he returned from a torn right patellar tendon in three weeks.

The quick returns are fine and good, but the flip side is they mean Dukes continues to have problems with his right leg. It has landed him on the disabled list three times this season, causing him to miss a total of 72 games.

Manager Manny Acta said Dukes will be the everyday right fielder as long as Austin Kearns is out with a left foot stress fracture. He had shown signs he could be a fixture in the middle of the Nationals’ lineup, hitting .300 in his previous 20 games before Wednesday night. The problem was those games were stretched out over nearly two months.

“We’re anxious to see him because he hasn’t been able to stay on the field for an extended period of time,” Acta said. “He’s another guy that we’ve got to continue to look at and see if he can bring to the table what he was bringing before he went down.”

Dukes said the pain in his leg is effectively gone, though he added he’s looking forward to having an offseason to build up his leg muscles in hopes of preventing some of the injury problems he has had this season.

“I still need that rest. It’s going to do me some justice,” Dukes said. “I can build up my strength in my legs and be able to work on those little muscles to help not hurt myself again.”

Eckstein joins staff

Rick Eckstein, the hitting coach at Class AAA Columbus and an assistant on the 2008 U.S. Olympic baseball team, arrived at Nationals Park on Wednesday, three days in advance of a month-long stint with the Nationals’ coaching staff.

Eckstein, the older brother of Blue Jays infielder David Eckstein, will join the club Sept. 1 as part of an MLB rule that allows teams to expand their coaching staff by one as minor league call-ups are added to the roster.

He joined the St. Louis Cardinals in a similar capacity last September before coming to the Nationals this season.

“I’m just assisting Manny [Acta] and [hitting coach] Lenny [Harris] in any way - batting practice, video work, whatever,” Eckstein said.

With the Nationals possessing the National League’s worst batting average with Harris as the hitting coach, Eckstein’s promotion could be seen as an audition for the permanent hitting coach job.

General manager Jim Bowden said Eckstein’s presence is mostly to bring an “extra hand” to the organization but then praised Eckstein’s qualifications and said he has the potential to be a big league coach someday.

“There’s a reason why Davey Johnson picked him to be one of his coaches on the Olympic team because he’s that good,” Bowden said. “We’ve been very impressed in all aspects of his work ethic, whether he’s teaching hitting, doing infield or any way he’s contributing. He’s just a baseball rat. He loves the game. He’s highly intelligent and is well respected by the players. We think he brings something special to the table.”

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