Elijah Dukes Gets It Right This Time

Photo: Greg Fiume/Getty

For the Washington Nationals, trading for Elijah Dukes was a gamble. The good news is that the gamble appears to have paid off very well, in a relatively short period of time.

There were a number of teams who wouldn't have touched Elijah Dukes when the Nationals worked out a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays to acquire the troubled outfielder who had just potential on his side. Dukes had a long list of transgressions away from baseball and seemed like somewhat of a lost cause, considering that seemingly nobody had been able to get through to him during his short career. Despite some personality issues, Dukes had run afoul of the law on various occasions when Tampa had decided to give up on him.

In working out the deal, the Rays received a young pitching prospect, Glenn Gibson, a 22 year old left-hander. In Gibson, the Rays believed that they were not only dumping Dukes' explosive - and some would say, dangerous - personality, but they were getting a young pitcher who would help them down the line. While the jury is still out on Gibson (4-8, 6.89 in 16 games at Low-A Columbus), the jury's verdict is encouraging on Dukes.

The season started on the wrong foot for Dukes when he opened with a 1-for-28 streak and then found himself on the disabled list. Admittedly, there were many who sat back and waited for news of another "issue" or potentially even another arrest, but none came. Eventually, Dukes was off the DL and found playing time as the Nationals regular right fielder when Austin Kearns wound up on the DL with a bad elbow. From there, Dukes went on a hitting rampage and is hitting .333 (20-for-60) over the past couple of weeks and has become a dominant bat in the Nationals lineup. Now, talk is of finding a way to keep Dukes in the lineup full-time even once Kearns returns. With Dukes, the Nats have found a disciplined hitter, who has been strong on the bases and gives them a near complete player in the lineup, which has been important with the loss of Kearns, Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson from the Washington lineup.

Dukes did have one blemish this season when he got into a heated argument with manager Manny Acta in the dugout, leading to teammates having to separate the two. That incident was quickly taken care of though and there don't appear to be any lingering effects from the "discussion".

The truth is, that Dukes is not only becoming a dominant force on the field, but he's becoming one of the more popular figures in the clubhouse. In fact, his voice could be an important addition a clubhouse that lacks a true, outspoken leader. I can't say anything bad about the guy," pitcher Tim Redding said. "Everybody knows the baggage he had coming into this season, but he is by far, unquestionably, one of the best ballplayers we have in this clubhouse."

In case you're worried that Dukes has mellowed too much, put your worries aside. He's still the outspoken guy that he's always been, especially when it comes to his game. "To battle back the way I did, I commend myself," Dukes said. "Because I did what it takes to get better." The bottom line though is that Dukes has put in the work needed to succeed, both on the field and off, and deserves credit. He's certainly not the same problematic guy that the Nationals acquired from the Rays and they're glad that he's also not the same .190 hitter that the Rays had last season.

While you can't say for sure that this deal will ultimately be as lop-sided as it appears now, it's a deal that has the potential to go down as one of the great all-time steals in baseball. Only time will tell.

Nats Chatter

  • Austin Kearns, out since May 22 with bone fragments in his right elbow, is hitting in the batting cage and should be ready to join his teammates for batting practice on the field shortly. Once he gets over that hurdle, he'll be sent on a minor-league rehab assignment. Manager Manny Acta said Kearns will likely need more than three days on rehab to get his swing down before the club activates him off the 15-day disabled list.
  • Tim Redding has been a model of consistency for the Nationals, though that hasn't always been a good thing. Redding has lasted between five and 6 1/3 innings in each of his last 14 starts, a stretch in which he's pitched well but not well enough. The veteran right-hander hasn't received a decision in any of his last six outings and has been stuck on six wins since May 19.


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