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05/24/08 7:03 PM ET

Dukes in Nats lineup after injury

Struggling outfielder starts a day after hurting his ankle

WASHINGTON -- A day after hurting his left ankle on a foul ball, Nationals right fielder Elijah Dukes was back in the starting lineup, batting seventh against the Brewers. He said the ankle is sore but not enough to keep him out of the lineup.

While he is pleased with his defense, Dukes wants to start improving his batting average. Entering Saturday's action, Dukes is 2-for-32 (.063) with an RBI and 13 strikeouts. Dukes' biggest problem is that he is vulnerable to breaking balls.

"I'm just trying to get my offense rolling, get comfortable and do what I've been doing for so many years now," Dukes said. "For some reason, I've been battling myself offensively. My approach now is just going out there and hit. That's all I can do.

"I noticed I better learn how to hit a breaking ball. I know that much. For some reason, I noticed that I'm getting, like, 90 percent breaking balls. I get a little impatient in 3-2 counts. I know I'm getting [to] 3-2 a lot and swinging at that ball that probably wasn't as good as the first ball to me, and I end up going for it."

With Austin Kearns on the disabled list because of a right elbow injury and expected to miss four weeks of action, Dukes most likely will play every day in right field. But he sounded like a man who has to earn his spot on the team and start producing immediately.

"Well, that's not always a guarantee," said Dukes about playing every day. "I never really worried about that situation. I just know that when my time is called, I'm supposed to just go in there and do what I've been doing -- and I haven't been doing it. It's time. I have to break through or somebody else is going to fill in that role, too. I know that my time is only limited, so I better do something about it."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.