- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2008

ATLANTA | Washington Nationals first baseman Dmitri Young is back in the District to work on getting his blood sugar back to normal while the team is on the West Coast, but that won’t be the only step Young needs to take to get back on the roster.

General manager Jim Bowden said Sunday that Young will head to the Nationals’ rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate in Viera, Fla., once he gets his diabetes under control and stay there until he is in playing shape.

Young was placed on the disabled list Saturday after missing the Nationals’ first two post-All Star break games with high blood sugar.

“Get the diabetes under control, get him into first-class physical shape so he can play baseball at the level he was at last year,” Bowden said. “We’ll keep him in Florida until he’s able to do that.”

The current plan represents the toughest stance the Nationals have taken with Young this season after minimizing concerns about his weight early in the year.

The first baseman reported to spring training out of shape and has struggled with injuries much of the year, including lower back problems that also revealed degenerative changes in the joints between his back and hips.

“Certainly there’s a link [between the diabetes and Young’s physical condition],” Bowden said.

Young was diagnosed with diabetes in November 2006 shortly after he was released by the Detroit Tigers. The Nationals signed him before last season, and he won National League comeback player of the year honors by hitting .320 with 13 homers and 74 RBI. This season he is batting .280 but has only four homers and 10 RBI in 50 games.

Lo Duca at first

With Young out, Paul Lo Duca will get most of the playing time at first base. He started there for the fifth consecutive game Sunday, and manager Manny Acta said Lo Duca will be the first option at the position, though Ronnie Belliard also could play it.

“He had a couple of rough games when he first moved over there, but he can handle it,” Acta said of Lo Duca. “We all know he’s not a first baseman by nature, so I’m not going to be asking him to give Gold Glove [defense].”

Lo Duca, normally a catcher, has played first in nine games this season after seeing time there in just 24 games from 2003 to 2007.

Wagner improving

Right-handed reliever Ryan Wagner will move his rehab work from Class A Potomac to Class AAA Columbus on Monday, the next step in getting him back to the major leagues for the first time since June 2007.

Wagner, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum last year, pitched for Potomac on Friday and Saturday. Bowden said his fastball has been around 88 mph but added he doesn’t expect Wagner’s velocity to jump the extra 5 to 6 mph to his normal level this season.

“It takes two years, no question,” Bowden said. “But it’s very positive that he’s already up to 88.”

Milledge moving soon

Bowden said center fielder Lastings Milledge, who is in Viera rehabbing a right groin injury, will head straight to Columbus after a few games in Florida.

“We’ll expedite it,” Bowden said. “It all depends how he does.”

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