Mailbag: Will Dukes, Milledge improve?

Mailbag: Will Dukes, Milledge improve?

The Nationals finished the 2008 season in fifth place in the National League East with a 59-102 record, and fans want to know what Washington can do to get better next season. Here are more answers to their questions.

Do you think outfielders Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes will reach their full potential?
-- Matt B., Fairfax, Va.

I believe they will. What I like about Milledge is that he knows his shortcomings. He knows he must improve his defense and he is still getting better as a hitter. When it's all said and done, Milledge will be an above average player.

As far as Dukes goes, he has superstar written all over him. He is a five-tool player, but to get there, he has to stay healthy and be a solid citizen on and off the field.

I see you talking about everyone in the rotation, but you have never mentioned Tim Redding. He was the best starter on the team this past season. What is his future with the Nationals?
-- Jason T., Fort Worth, Texas

I believe John Lannan was the Nationals' best starter. Redding had a good first half, but he slumped badly after the All-Star break, going 3-8 with a 6.82 ERA. Opponents hit .374 against him in the second half. When one looks at those numbers, one can't say that Redding is a lock in the rotation. Redding is arbitration-eligible and it could go either way when it comes to him being tendered or non-tendered.

With Washington's need for pitching, has it expressed any interest in right-hander Carl Pavano?
-- Brian P., East Winthrop, Maine

I've always said that I never put anything past general manager Jim Bowden. However, I would be surprised if the Nationals had interest because Pavano has a history of injuries. The team can't afford to have players on the DL like they did this past season.

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Any idea who the Nats are looking at for their No. 1 selection in next year's First-Year Player Draft? Is Steven Strasburg already a lock?
-- Jody D., McLean, Va.

I can't sit here and tell you it's a lock that Strasburg will be the Nationals' No. 1 pick. A lot can change before the Draft. I think it's safe to say that the team will be taking a long look at him during the college baseball season.

Last week, you wrote about the all-time Expos team. Andres Galarraga put in more years at first for the Expos, but honorable mention must go to Al Oliver. He put in two productive years at first for the franchise.
-- Rodney W., Arlington, Va.

You know, I forgot about Oliver. There is no question he put together two great years, and I agree he should take honorable mention for first base.

I've read all your stories since you were covering the Expos and I have a great amount of respect for you and your opinions. However, I believe you are too patient. I believe in giving someone a second chance, but not 10. Don't you think you can stop hoping for miracles for players like Nick Johnson or even managers like Frank Robinson? You wait too long for a productive result, then you acknowledge that maybe they weren't that great.
-- Alex C., Montreal

You make a fair point. I think one has to be patient in this game. Too many times I've seen teams lose patience with a player and then that player comes back to haunt them. Look at Jamey Carroll. Bowden made his biggest mistake when he sold him to the Rockies. Outside of Ronnie Belliard, I don't think the Nationals have had a player that equals Carroll as far as a backup middle infielder.

I would love to see Johnson get another chance because of the talent he brings to the field. But at the same time, I understand the Nationals' side of things. They want a player who can stay healthy for 150-162 games.

Shouldn't the Nationals be more creative and aggressive with runners on base?
-- Efren M., Washington, D.C.

I agree with you. I felt they waited for the big hit too often. If you look at last year's roster, only Dukes and Ryan Zimmerman -- when they were healthy -- were capable of giving Washington a the three-run homer. I felt there should have been more hitting and running and more base stealing. There is no question the club had a stagnant offense in 2008.

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