VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo reiterated Friday afternoon that outfielder Elijah Dukes was given his unconditional release two days ago because of lack of performance on the field.
Rizzo was irritated by reports that he had a dislike for Dukes. Rizzo pointed out that he did a lot for Dukes on and off the field after the young outfielder was acquired from the Rays following the 2007 season.
"The decision to release Elijah was a tough decision -- not only for me, but for [manager] Jim Riggleman, too," Rizzo said. "I've known Elijah since the beginning when he first arrived here. I was the guy who he came to with any problems that he had. I was the guy who always cared about him."
It was Rizzo who made the decision that Dukes didn't need advisor James Williams, who was dismissed after being on the team's payroll the previous two years. Rizzo felt Dukes, 25, was mature enough to take care of himself.
Dukes did not return several phone messages. Last January, Dukes said he considered Rizzo a father figure. Dukes also said Rizzo gave him tough love.
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"He knows what it takes to get me to shut up and play," Dukes said about Rizzo. "He would say, 'Stop making excuses and just play.' He said, 'I'm not going to baby you. You know how I feel about you. I love you to death, but I'm going to treat you like you are a grown man.' I was like, 'All right, I can't really try to step over that line. I can't even flex it a little bit.' He let me know that he is going to treat me like everybody else."
Said Rizzo about Dukes' comments: "He tried hard. I'm not going to go into anything else that has happened in the clubhouse. That's our business in here. I'm not here to throw him under the bus or say anything negative. I wish him well. I hope he catches on with another club, has a good life and good baseball career."
Dukes didn't perform during Spring Training, going 3-for-20 (.150) with five strikeouts. The team was alarmed that he couldn't hit breaking balls, his defense had eroded and he was timed at 4.6 seconds from home to first base. It didn't help that Dukes had knee problems.
"It was performance based, and I'm going to leave at that," Rizzo said. "There is no one in the organization who saw him more than I have. It was an organizational decision. Ultimately, it's my call. We decided to go in this direction."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.