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09/28/08 7:55 PM ET

Dukes realizes he has room to grow

Young Nats outfielder hoping to stay healthy for full season

PHILADELPHIA -- Nationals outfielder Elijah Dukes has people believing he can be a force after hitting .264 with 13 home runs, 44 RBIs and 50 walks in 81 games this season.

But for Dukes to play a full season, he has to stay healthy and out of trouble. He played in only half of the team's games because of right calf, hamstring and knee injuries.

"I never got hurt like that in a season where I missed games," Dukes said. "It's kind of new to me. If I can stay on the field and have the same swing and plate discipline next year, I can basically look forward to a [good year]. But it's not about me. It's about winning."

Dukes had two character blips this year for being late on Aug. 3 and making gestures toward the fans at Shea Stadium on Sept. 10.

The young outfielder acknowledged that he has some things to learn, such as trusting people more.

"I got better, thanks to my teammates I have surrounding me," Dukes said. "I have to stay healthy and continue to get better as a person. I really don't like to talk much. I need to cope a little better. I'm kind of a loner, so I have to get out of that stage, stop thinking that everybody is always against me or out to hurt me."

Dukes will spend the offseason in Washington to rehab his right knee and not return to Tampa, Fla. Dukes hurt the knee while making a catch against the Reds in early July.

"I'm going to stay in shape. I always stay in shape. I pride myself in looking good," Dukes said. "Other than that, I'm going to keep hitting and come back for next year. Hopefully, we can put it together and go to playoffs like the other guys."

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