- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2008

SEATTLE | Paul Lo Duca will return from the disabled list this week, but the veteran catcher will have ceded his starting job to hot-hitting 23-year-old Jesus Flores.

So where does that leave Lo Duca, a four-time All-Star making $5 million this season?

How about left field? Seriously.

Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta said Sunday that Lo Duca is likely to get some playing time in the outfield (and possibly first base) once he returns from a broken right hand (possibly by Tuesday).

“Yeah, we can throw him out there. We can see him,” Acta said before the finale of Washington’s series against the Seattle Mariners. “That doesn’t mean he’s going to be there every day, but we can get him some at-bats. We need to get the most production out of everybody here for this lineup to get going.”

Lo Duca does have some experience in the field. He has played 37 career games in the outfield, 76 at first base and one at third base. But he hasn’t done anything other than catch since 2004, when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Nationals want to find ways to keep Lo Duca’s bat in the lineup - he’s hitting just .200 this season but boasts a career .287 average - but acknowledge they can only afford to start him behind the plate sparingly now because of Flores’ development.

Flores, in his second big league season, has blossomed into Washington’s most productive offensive player. He went 0-for-5 Sunday to drop his average to .311, but he drove in two more runs to give him 25 in only 33 games this season. His .383 on-base percentage and .557 slugging percentage also lead the club, leaving the Nationals no choice but to continue playing him.

“There’s still about four months to go and a lot of at-bats left,” Acta said Saturday night after Flores’ seventh-inning homer lifted Washington to a 5-2 victory over the Mariners. “But the way he’s playing right now, there’s no way we’re going to be able to not play the kid and not be able to feel like he’s part of our lineup right now.”

Clippard’s brief stay

Tyler Clippard did just about everything he could Saturday night to warrant a prolonged stay with the Nationals, but the right-hander still is expected to be sent back to Class AAA Columbus in the next day or two.

Summoned for the second time in a week to make a spot start in place of injured left-hander Odalis Perez, Clippard allowed just two runs over six innings to beat Seattle. But with the Nationals needing to clear a roster spot for Lo Duca, the 23-year-old pitcher is probably going to be the odd man out.

“We do understand that everybody wants to be here. Obviously that’s what everybody works for,” Acta said. “But [Clippard] does understand. He’s here because Odalis is on the DL, and we had to make room for Paul. Obviously nobody has to be happy, but he understands it.”

Because Clippard is being sent back down, Washington will need to promote another pitcher from Columbus to start Saturday against the Texas Rangers. Major league rules require a demoted player to remain in the minors at least 10 days before being recalled unless another player gets injured during that time.

Progress for Kearns

Outfielder Austin Kearns, on the DL since May 22 with loose bone fragments in his right elbow, took swings Sunday for the first time since he underwent surgery.

Kearns will need to get his swing together before the club sends him on a rehab assignment, so he remains several weeks away from returning to Washington’s lineup.

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