Inbox: Can Dukes reach his potential?

Inbox: Can Dukes reach his potential?

How good can outfielder Elijah Dukes be if he plays up to his potential?
-- Jake T., Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.

If he stays healthy and keeps his mind right, I think Dukes will have his first 100 RBI season. I also think Jim Riggleman is the right manager for him. Riggleman got to know Dukes not only during the season, but also in the offseason. Dukes thought a lot of Riggleman when he went to the wake for Dukes' father. It showed Dukes that Riggleman cared about him. It also helps that coach Tim Foli and general manager Mike Rizzo will be around to set Dukes straight. They are not afraid to yell at Dukes when he does something wrong.

If they stay relatively healthy, are the Nationals possible playoff contenders or will they finish below .500?
-- Jeff H, Washington

This is a question I can't answer right now. Ask me before Opening Day. I don't think Rizzo is finished making moves.

I notice that you get a lot of heat for getting on Adam Dunn's defense. How do feel about the criticism you get for it?
-- Ken J., Washington

It doesn't bother me at all. The fans remind me of when I was a Dave Kingman fan in the 1970s. During Kingman's first tenure with the Mets, all I wanted him to do was hit monster home runs and break car windows behind the left-field fence at Shea Stadium. I couldn't care less about his strikeouts or the fact that he couldn't play good defense. So I understand how Nationals fans feel about Dunn.

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But the reality is, if Dunn, Josh Willingham or Cristian Guzman don't improve their defense this season, the Nationals are going to be in trouble, and I would hate to see that happen.

How many at-bats do you think Ivan Rodriguez will get this season? I really think he wants to make a run at 3,000 hits, and I'm sure the Nats are aware of this.
-- Dave, New York

I think Pudge will get at least 450 at-bats this season, because Jesus Flores will be out for quite some time after right shoulder surgery. Washington will take its time when it comes to Flores getting back on the field. Yes, the Nationals are aware that Rodriguez would like to collect career hit No. 3,000.

I wanted to know what your thoughts were about possibly bringing in Gary Sheffield as a big bat off the bench for the Nationals?
-- David H., Laytonsville, Md.

I spoke to a baseball source who told me that Sheffield would not be a good fit with the Nationals because he wants to play every day. The source believes Sheffield would not accept a role as a backup.

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