Lo Duca makes Nats debut vs. Mets

Lo Duca makes Nats debut vs. Mets

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Catcher Paul Lo Duca played his first exhibition game for the Nationals on Friday and went 1-for-3 in an 8-2 loss to the Mets, the team he played for the last two years. He also threw out shortstop Jose Reyes trying to steal third base.

Lo Duca, who has admitted he wasn't happy that the Mets didn't retain his services, vowed to keep his emotions in check, and he did just that except for the first inning, when the fans at Tradition Field gave him a nice ovation.

"I got a little emotional when I went up to bat," he said. "I got a couple of boos, but I have a good last name. I could say in my head, 'They are saying Duc.' The fans have been great to me. They have been by my side from Day 1."

Lo Duca had missed most of the exhibition season because he was still recovering from left knee surgery, but he had played in Minor League games in recent weeks.

"My knee is not an issue," Lo Duca said. "It's just a matter of getting the timing back. I felt OK at the plate. I'll be ready. I feel really good. I feel 100 percent, to be honest with you. I'm excited."

Lo Duca, 35, badly wants to show the Nationals they didn't make a mistake by signing him to a one-year, $5 million contract. The relationship between the two parties was tested a couple of days after he signed the deal.

On Dec. 13, 2007, Lo Duca's name surfaced in the Mitchell Report, which claimed that Lo Duca purchased human growth hormone from Kirk Radomski, a clubhouse attendant for the Mets from 1985-95. The Report indicated that Lo Duca made these purchases as a member of the Dodgers and Marlins, for whom he played prior to joining the Mets in 2006.

The Mitchell Report also claimed that Lo Duca referred other players, such as former Dodgers pitchers Kevin Brown and Eric Gagne, to Radomski. Lo Duca, according to the Report, started using steroids when he was with the Albuquerque Dukes, a Dodgers affiliate.

"It was a tough reaction. It's something you have in the back of your mind because you know you did it and you are waiting to see if your name is in it," said Lo Duca, who other than issuing an apology had not previously talked in depth about the Report. "And you know something? It's almost a relief. I'm sort of glad my name was in it -- just to get it off my chest. It's something that I did and I'm not proud of it. I wish I wouldn't have done it and I did."

Asked if staying in the Dodgers' Minor Leagues system for eight-plus years was the reason he started using performance-enhancing drugs, Lo Duca said, "I had a bad injury in the Minor Leagues. I got run over at home plate. That was part of it, but that's not an excuse. I did it to get healthy, and then I saw the results and I did it again.

"You see guys that might have done it or you suspected [of using it]. I was in the Minor Leagues for a long time and I thought this might get me over the hump. It's just a mistake that I made [and] I wish I could take back."

Spring Training
News and features:
• Spring Spotlight: Nationals  400K
• Ladson on Milledge, Dukes  400K
• Ladson on Lo Duca, ballpark  400K
• Cordero on Under the Lights  400K
• Nationals Park update  400K
Spring Training info:
MLB.com coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

A little over a month after the Report came out, Lo Duca hurt his left knee while working out in a New York gym and he ended up having arthroscopic surgery.

Through it all, according to Lo Duca, the Nationals gave him nothing but support, and Lo Duca is already talking about playing for Washington beyond this year.

"They have been by my side, especially with everything that happened with the Mitchell Report and knee surgery," Lo Duca said. "I just want to tell the Nationals fans and the Nationals that I'm going to play hard. I can understand some people being skeptical, but that's my job to prove them wrong."

The Nationals consider Lo Duca a significant upgrade from his predecessor, Brian Schneider. Washington wants more than just a catcher who calls good games. It wants a hitter and a leader, on and off the field. Lo Duca is a lifetime .288 hitter and is known to say what he feels.

Early this week, for example, an upset Lo Duca didn't see his name in the starting lineup against the Mets, so he went into manager Manny Acta's office for an explanation. Lo Duca calmed down after Acta told him the team wanted Lo Duca to be in a "more controlled environment" and make sure that his left knee was OK when he is hitting and catching behind the plate.

"We want him to be consistent [calling games] and be the same hitter like he was before -- a contact guy," Acta said. "We'll probably sandwich him between a couple of guys that are prone to strike out -- have the balance in our lineup -- just help his teammates with all the knowledge that he has in the big leagues."

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