- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2008

HOUSTON — The Washington Nationals have lost both of their veteran catchers to injury and now plan to hand over the starting job to 23-year-old Jesus Flores for at least a month.

Paul Lo Duca (fractured bone in his right hand) and Johnny Estrada (inflamed nerve in his right elbow) will be placed on the 15-day disabled list today, club officials said. Flores will be recalled from Class AAA Columbus to take over as the everyday catcher, and outfielder Elijah Dukes (on the DL since the second day of the season with a strained hamstring) also will join the big league roster in time for tonight’s game against the Florida Marlins.

An MRI taken on Lo Duca’s hand yesterday revealed a fracture in the fourth metacarpal bone, an injury that requires at least four to six weeks of recovery time. Lo Duca likely suffered the minor fracture when he was hit by a pitch April 13, leading to his first stint on the DL. He returned to play last week but the pain never completely subsided and became excruciating Wednesday night when he fouled off a seventh-inning pitch from Houston Astros starter Roy Oswalt.


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“Obviously, there was something there before, and I think I just topped it off,” said Lo Duca, who is batting just .200 in 17 games this season. “It’s been bothering me. It got better when I had time off, but the more I started taking swings, it started bothering me.”

Estrada’s injury, officially classified as ulnar neuritis, is the result of lingering pain from surgery he had last winter on his elbow. Though he had been on the active roster since April 8, he appeared in only 11 games behind the plate and was barely able to throw.



“I’m throwing change-ups to second base,” he said. “That’s just not me. I have a lot more arm strength than that.”

There is no timetable for Estrada’s return, so Flores will become Washington’s starting catcher for the foreseeable future, with veteran Wil Nieves backing him up.

Flores, who impressed team officials last season as a Rule 5 draft pick, was hitting just .153 at Columbus. The Nationals, though, aren’t concerned about his offensive struggles and are more focused on turning him into their long-term solution behind the plate.

“I’m fine with him,” manager Manny Acta said. “I like what I saw last year. We know what we’re doing here. This guy is part of our future, and we’re going to play him and continue to develop him.”

Dukes’ return

The injuries to Lo Duca and Estrada opened a spot for Dukes to rejoin the roster after spending more than a month on the DL with a strained hamstring suffered Opening Night.

The 22-year-old outfielder hit a combined .211 while on rehab with both Columbus and Class A Potomac, but he’s running well and was deemed ready to return.

Acta said Dukes will be used as originally intended: a fourth outfielder who can fill in for Wily Mo Pena in left, Lastings Milledge in center or Austin Kearns in right.

“He’s going to come in and be part of the team, get some playing time here and there,” Acta said. “Nothing’s changed.”

Redding heads home

Tim Redding, tonight’s starter against the Marlins at Nationals Park, flew home yesterday and missed the Nationals’ finale against the Astros so he could be well-rested for his outing.

The Nationals’ charter wasn’t scheduled to land until 4 a.m., so Redding took a commercial flight home.

The right-hander (4-2, 3.20 ERA) will be looking to record his third straight quality start.

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