- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2009

NEW YORK | In a decision that manager Manny Acta said was planned ahead of time and had more to do with Elijah Dukes’ legs than his glove or his head, the Washington Nationals sat the center fielder Sunday in the series finale against the Mets after a rough two days in New York.

When his diving attempt to catch a Carlos Beltran fly ball came up short Friday night, the Mets got their first run of a 4-3 victory off Beltran’s triple. Then, Dukes didn’t have his sunglasses on when he lost a fly ball in the sun Saturday. That shot, off David Wright’s bat, landed for a two-out triple that wound up giving the Mets three runs in an 8-2 win.

Justin Maxwell started in Dukes’ place on Sunday, going 2-for-5 with a walk, two stolen bases and two runs. Acta said the plan was to give Dukes a break all along.

“It was a scheduled day off, regardless of what happened [Saturday],” Acta said. “He could have made five diving catches and hit three home runs. This was a scheduled day off for him and Nick [Johnson] and a chance to throw Maxwell out there.”

Dukes went on the disabled list three times last season, each with a separate injury to his right leg. It’s easy to forget his injury history, given what a talented athlete the outfielder is, but Acta said the Nationals have to monitor him almost as closely as they do Johnson, who has been on the disabled list in each of his eight major league seasons.

“That was one reason why we tried to keep him in the corners [of the outfield] before [Lastings Milledge was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse] because we didn’t want him covering so much ground and running himself down,” Acta said. “We have a lot of games in a row coming up.”

Acta and others in the organization are high on Maxwell, who was the team’s fourth-round pick in 2005. The center fielder has been waylaid by injuries, though, and it remains to be seen whether he will stick in the majors once Willie Harris comes off the disabled list later this week.

“We like him. It’s not a secret,” Acta said. “He’s a great athlete, and I think he’s one of those guys that, given the opportunity, somehow, some way, even if he has a flaw, he’s going to figure it out because he’s so smart. He works so hard, and he’s just a great teammate. We’d love to see him, but unfortunately we have so many outfielders right now that the best thing for him would be probably to play more often.”

Acta still secure in status

Despite a 3-13 start that left questions about his job security, Acta said Sunday morning before the Nationals’ fourth win of the season that acting general manager Mike Rizzo and team president Stan Kasten express their support to him “on an everyday basis.”

“Nothing has changed here in the way Mike and Stan and the ownership group treats me,” Acta said. “I like working with [Rizzo]. He’s very professional. … As cliche as it might sound, I can’t worry about that stuff because I can’t control how they feel or what’s going to happen in the future.”

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