- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 17, 2009

Outfielder Elijah Dukes’ strained left hamstring injury isn’t serious, Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta said Saturday.

He made a pinch-hit appearance in the ninth inning of Saturday’s first game of a doubleheader against the Phillies but did not start either game.

Team doctor Wiemi Douoguih examined Dukes on Friday and said the biggest concern would be keeping Dukes, who has a history of cramping, hydrated.

“We know about his history of injuries and stuff,” Acta said. “That’s part of what our training staff does, try to keep the guys hydrated, stretch him and all that kind of stuff. It’s coming. Guys just need to do what they have to do to stay in top shape.”

Dukes spent time on the disabled list for three leg injuries last year. He strained his right hamstring in the first game of the season, tore his right patellar tendon while trying to make a catch in Cincinnati in July and injured his right calf after hitting himself in the leg on a backswing in August.

Right fielder Austin Kearns was also not in the lineup for either game after getting hit by a pitch in the left hand in the 12th inning Friday night, but Acta said Kearns was fine.

Nieves surging

Before last season, Wil Nieves had never played more than 60 major league games with one team. He had bounced around with three organizations, trying to get a permanent shot as a backup catcher.

When he got that chance with the Nationals last year, he didn’t miss.

He hit .269 with 20 RBI in 68 games last season, cementing himself as a reliable option when Jesus Flores needed a day off. The Nationals released Paul Lo Duca in August, and he received only a late challenge from Josh Bard for the backup spot this spring.

Now Nieves is seeing another uptick in his playing time with Flores on the 15-day disabled list with a right shoulder strain. He had started the Nationals’ past five games before Bard spelled him in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

In 11 games this year, Nieves is hitting .294 with a double and two RBI. The numbers are modest, but for a catcher primarily known for his defensive skills, they’ve been a nice bonus.

“He’s done a good job for us,” Acta said. “He’s picked up [Flores] big-time, defensively and offensively. He’s gotten some key hits for us the last couple of days. It’s always good to have a guy like him. We appreciate the type of stuff he’s done the last two years.”

For Nieves, the appreciation is mutual.

“It’s been so hard for me to establish myself in the big leagues,” he said. “To finally be on a team where they like you and they’re giving you the opportunity to play is great. I’m so happy with the opportunity they’ve been giving me since last year. It feels great when you’re fitting on a team and they like you and they trust you.”

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