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04/05/2013 8:15 PM ET

Duke ready for work as long reliever

CINCINNATI -- Entering Friday's action, left-hander Zach Duke was the only reliever on the Nationals' 25-man roster who had yet to appear this season because the starting pitchers have gone deep into games.

When it comes to the late innings, the ball likely belongs to Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen or Rafael Soriano.

Duke understands the situation and is prepared to enter a game when called. Before games, Duke has bullpen sessions and throws on flat ground.

"I'm ready to go whenever," Duke said.

Duke is going into his first full season as a long reliever. He was considered the emergency starter to start the season until the Nationals signed right-hander Chris Young on Thursday. In his first six seasons in the big leagues, Duke was a starter for the Pirates.

"It's a little different, but through Spring Training, I felt great, feel healthy and I'm ready to get the ball whenever," Duke said.

The Reds have three left-handed hitters -- Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo -- in their starting lineup, so it wouldn't come as a surprise if Duke sees action in this series.

"I have a lot of familiarity with the Reds. I know Bruce and Votto. Choo is new to me. I've had success with the other guys. Hopefully, I will get in there," Duke said.

Duke entered the game against the Reds in Friday night's 15-0 loss and was hit hard, allowing six runs -- five earned -- in two and two-third innings.

Span focused on improving baserunning

CINCINNATI -- Before Friday's game against the Reds, Nationals center fielder Denard Span was working on baserunning techniques with first-base coach Tony Tarasco.

While Tarasco calls Span a diligent baserunner, Span wants to become more efficient when it comes to stealing bases. He also wants to improve at picking up the opposing pitcher's moves toward the plate.

"He has already changed some of the bad habits that he had before and developed new habits. We are too early in the season to go over the numbers," Tarasco said. "He has done a good job making himself more efficient. He has made a few minor changes that will help him in a big way."

Before coming to the Nationals, Span would often take his eyes off the pitcher when trying to pick up the slide step.

"Now he starts running and keeps his eye on the pitcher. It makes a world of difference," Tarasco said.

Span started his Major League career with the Twins and said there wasn't as large an emphasis on baserunning as there is with the Nationals.

"In the short time I've been here, this is the most I've ever spent on [running] -- hands on -- as far as becoming a better basestealer," Span said. "In Minnesota, we wouldn't talk about it a lot. I'm not saying we didn't work on it, but it's only the second series of the season and [the Nationals] have done a lot so far."

Entering Friday's game against the Reds, Span attempted to steal second base once and was called out against the Marlins. Span said he would like to have a success rate of 75 to 80 percent.

"I didn't want to go, just to be going. I want to go at ideal times," Span said. "I want to help the team. It's not about me stealing 60 or 70 bases. That would be nice, but if I could steal 25 to 35 bases and it helps a ballclub and those stolen bases are meaningful -- if it is a good percentage -- that would be fine with me."

Worth noting

• According to manager Davey Johnson, Adam LaRoche has been dealing with back tightness, but he still started against the Reds on Friday night and went 0-for-3.

LaRoche started having back issues on Wednesday, when the Nationals were dealing with cold weather at Nationals Park. LaRoche is off to a slow start, going 0-for-13 so far this year.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.