- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — Catcher Paul Lo Duca said he hopes to start running by the end of this week, the first step in his attempt to play on Opening Day in the District after having offseason knee surgery.

Lo Duca, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Nationals, had surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee less than four weeks ago. Both Lo Duca and Nationals management said they expect him to be ready to play when the season opens at Nationals Park on March 30.

“I feel like I’m on schedule,” Lo Duca said. “All the stuff they’ve thrown at me strengthening-wise, there’s been no pain. … I threw a little bit to second base yesterday. I’m not in a crouch, but I’m just waiting for them to tell me when I can start hitting. I’m getting a little itchy but so far so good. No pain.”

A key test for the knee, Lo Duca said, will be when he gets up and down from a crouching position to catch.

“To me, that’s going to be the tell,” he said. “I think I’m going to be able to do everything else. Crouching is going to be getting in and out of the crouch because that’s where it hurt before. That’s going to be the tell. Right now I can get in the crouch, and it does not hurt. It’s getting in and out that’s a little sore. When that goes away, I think I’ll be fully ready.”

Lo Duca was named in the Mitchell Report for purportedly purchasing human growth hormone from former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski. He also supposedly introduced other players to Radomski. Even if Lo Duca is physically ready to play Opening Day, he could face a suspension from commissioner Bud Selig.

Early birds

Yesterday was the reporting day for position players for the Washington Nationals, but most of those players had come to camp early, which manager Manny Acta believes is an indication of the enthusiasm of this team going into the season.

“They are eager to go to work, and we appreciate that,” Acta said. “That is always a good sign. It says a lot to me that we didn’t just have two or three guys but had actually a full squad working out.”

Pena power

Wily Mo Pena showed up at camp yesterday looking every bit like an NFL linebacker. The slugger is getting a shot to play every day this year as the Nationals’ left fielder.

Yesterday he blasted several balls over the fence, much to the delight of fans assembled there for the souvenirs.

Visa update

The number of Nationals players not here because of visa problems is now up to 12 since position players were supposed to report to camp today. The two who are of most concern to the Nationals, though, remain reliever Jesus Colome and catcher Jesus Flores. Reliever Luis Ayala was flying in last night and is expected to be at the training complex today.

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