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06/28/08 8:53 PM ET

Dukes primed to be everyday left fielder

Youngster to take over position when Kearns returns from DL

WASHINGTON -- Once Nationals right fielder Austin Kearns is activated from the disabled list next week, Elijah Dukes will become the everyday left fielder. The switch from right to left field doesn't matter to Dukes, who can play all three outfield positions without issue.

"He is such a tremendous athlete. He has good instincts, a very good arm. He has all the tools," manager Manny Acta said. "He is a natural in the outfield."

Dukes, 24, has been the best position player for the Nationals during the past month. In his past 31 games, Dukes is hitting .321 with three home runs and 15 RBIs. Even more impressive is that he has a .376 on-base percentage for the season.

Acta often lauds Dukes for having such a good eye at a young age.

"He lays off some tough pitches. For a young guy like him that is his biggest asset -- work the count and get good pitches to hit," Acta said.

Dukes said being 100 percent healthy and playing with confidence are the reasons he has become a solid player. Dukes also made it his top priority to learn the strike zone. After striking out 130 times during his first professional season in 2003, Dukes vowed that he would get better and be more patient at the plate.

"Luckily, I was able to start learning and recognize pitches early," Dukes said.

During the second half of the season, Dukes wants to continue to show that he can be a complete player.

"I want to try to stay consistent, continue to hit, steal bases and all that other stuff, especially on defense," Dukes said. "I'm not going to lay back on defense. I want to stay aggressive. Hopefully, I will start hitting more home runs."

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