- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Washington Nationals’ injury situation, which in the past week has reached possibly its most tenuous state of the season, is about to get better.

Manager Manny Acta said Saturday that outfielder Elijah Dukes and catcher Jesus Flores will head out on rehab assignments Monday. Dukes, who went on the 15-day disabled list May 20 with a strained left hamstring, will head to the team’s extended spring training complex in Viera, Fla., while Flores likely will go to Class AA Harrisburg to get some at-bats after missing the past two weeks with a right shoulder contusion.

“[Dukes] is pretty much ready. He’s going to run the bases [Sunday] and get down to Florida and follow his schedule,” Acta said. “[Flores] did very well - no limitations swinging the bat. He threw to the bases - not 100 percent, but he threw very well.”

Those developments, which could put one or both players back in the Nationals’ lineup by next weekend, are welcome news for an offense that has started to struggle for the first time this season.

Washington has scored eight runs in its past three games after tallying five or more in 10 straight games. The Nationals had just four hits in Friday’s 12-inning loss to the Orioles.

Acta said second baseman Anderson Hernandez, who dislocated a finger on his right hand Thursday night, is still day-to-day.

Rizzo sidesteps rumors

With Nick Johnson enjoying one of the best starts of his career and several teams in the market for a steady first baseman, the 30-year-old’s name has popped up with increasing regularity in trade rumors recently.

An ESPN.com report earlier this week said the Nationals offered Johnson to the Boston Red Sox for reliever Manny Delcarmen, but the Red Sox rejected the deal. The Giants are believed to have interest if they remain in the NL West race. The Mets are also missing first baseman Carlos Delgado, and the A’s inquired about Johnson last offseason.

Asked about the rumors Saturday, acting general manager Mike Rizzo was circumspect about Johnson’s future.

“He’s an extremely valuable player to the Nationals. We need him here, we like him here and we want him here,” Rizzo said. “If someone overwhelms us with a deal that we can’t refuse, of course we’re going to listen to a deal about Nick or about anybody else. But he’s an extremely valuable player for us.”

Johnson entered Saturday night hitting .336 with four homers, 25 RBI and a .434 on-base percentage. But he has spent time on the disabled list every season of his career and is due to become a free agent after the season.

Mock starting in Syracuse

Rizzo said Saturday that right-hander Garrett Mock, who was pitching out of the bullpen before he was optioned Thursday to Class AAA Syracuse, will start for the Chiefs.

Mock was projected as a starter last year, making a pair of spot starts for the Nationals last season but shifted to the bullpen late last season and even was slated to close games in the minors.

Rizzo said Mock could still be a starter or a reliever; the goal now, he said, is to get Mock as many innings as possible.

“We need for him to pitch innings,” Rizzo said.

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