- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — Newly acquired catcher Paul Lo Duca, whose brief tenure with the Washington Nationals has thus far consisted of accusations of steroids and HGH use along with knee surgery, is expected to speak publicly today for the first time since he was named in George Mitchell’s report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

Lo Duca has not spoken since the Mitchell Report — which included strong evidence claiming the four-time All-Star purchased steroids and HGH from former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski — was released Dec. 12.

It’s unclear whether Lo Duca will take questions or only issue a prepared statement.

“We’ve spoken to Paul and his agent, and I expect tomorrow that Paul will either have a written statement or will meet with all of you and talk to you,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “But it’ll come from the player. It won’t come from the club.”

Bowden wouldn’t comment on the possibility of Lo Duca, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Nationals on Dec. 12, facing suspension from Major League Baseball for violating its drug policy.

Washington officials, though, have prepared for that scenario, recently signing Johnny Estrada to a one-year deal and making plans for 23-year-old Jesus Flores to open the season in the majors.

“I know that entire situation’s under review with the commissioner’s office,” Bowden said. “We support the commissioner’s office 100 percent and the players’ association trying to rid our sport of the problems. But I don’t know the facts or the truth of that entire situation, so I leave it up to the people that do know those things.”

Even if he avoids suspension, Lo Duca may not make the Nationals’ Opening Day roster. He’s still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery last month and likely won’t be ready to play this spring until mid-March.

Said Bowden: “He has a chance to be ready Opening Day.”

How will it play?

The dimensions for the new Nationals Park are 335 feet down the right-field line, 370 feet to right-center, 409 feet to straightaway center, 377 feet to left-center and 332 feet down the left-field line.

But how the ballpark will play remains unknown.

Bowden still doesn’t know whether it will be a hitter’s park or a pitcher’s park.

“You can have theories all you want,” Bowden said. “I went through the new ballpark situation in Cincinnati, where everybody had a theory. … They did all the wind studies, and they were all wrong.”

The way the winds come through Nationals Park could change with all the construction going on around the area.

“I think it is changing every day a building is built around the ballpark,” Bowden said. “I think it affects it.”

Bowden believes it will fall somewhere between the pitcher-friendly confines of RFK Stadium and the small ballparks that have been built in the new era of stadium construction.

“It certainly is not going to be a bandbox,” he said. “We are not going into that, and we are not going into RFK. It is going to be balanced somewhere. I think it is probably going to lean toward pitching.

“But we will find a spot where [the ball] is going to get out because there is too much air. It is a small ballpark, and it is too open to not have wind and other elements be a factor in how the ball is carrying.”

Visa problems

Eight pitchers and catchers didn’t report to camp yesterday because of visa issues, according to Bowden.

They were right-handers Luis Ayala, Jesus Colome and Ismael Ramirez, left-handers Eude Brito, Arnie Munoz and Katsuhiko Maekawa and catchers Humberto Cota and Flores.

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