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David Brown

Nationals release Elijah Dukes, though nobody's quite sure why

David Brown
Big League Stew

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You've been cut, dawg.

Considering his personal history of troubling and sometimes violent behavior, it's not too surprising Elijah Dukes(notes) found a pink slip in his locker this morning at Washington Nationals camp.

Dukes must have done something, exhibited some kind of anti-social behavior that pushed general manager Mike Rizzo over the edge.

Jim Bowden, a former Nats GM who now works for satellite radio as an analyst, appeared to have some insight in a tweet earlier today.

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Bowden later deleted the tweet, which he annoyingly does routinely. Rizzo later asserted there was no such "singular incident," in another tweet, by Washington Post reporter Adam Kilgore.

The reasoning the Nats are giving for Dukes' release has more to do with his ability to hit a curveball than Dukes' proclivity to hit, say, a person. But their evidence is, at best, inconclusive.

So, what's really goin' on here, dawgs?

Dukes is 3-for-20 so far in spring training, which isn't good, but we have 2 1/2 weeks of games remaining.

He's still just 25 years old and a former third-round pick of the Rays. He has some power, some speed and, I think, a good arm. As recently as 2008, Dukes' major league OPS (in 81 games) was 27 percent higher than league average.

He had a minor-league option remaining, so the Nats could have sent him to Class AAA.

He should have had some kind of trade value. At least a "your Elijah Dukes for my Elijah Dukes" kinda thing.

And the Nats, whose star appears to be rising because of the coming of Stephen Strasburg(notes), aren't exactly putting together the greatest outfield in history with or without Dukes on the roster.

• The starting left fielder is Josh Willingham(notes), about whom they've talked of trading.

• The starting center fielder is Nyjer Morgan(notes), who recently came down with a minor leg injury. Sometimes those minor leg injuries turn into something worse.

• The starting right fielder, according to the depth chart at MLB.com, was to be Dukes. Willie Harris(notes) is the fourth outfielder, with Jason Maxwell, Mike Morse(notes) and Chris Duncan(notes) standing by.

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Bill Ladson, who covers the Nats for MLB.com, paraphrased Rizzo in a tweet:

Rizzo said the league adjusted [to] E. Dukes, but Dukes did not adjust to the league. He had serious problems hitting breaking balls.

FanGraphs backs that up to an extent.

Further, Rizzo said he didn't use Dukes' minor-league option because "We felt that he's a major league player. We didn't feel it would help his development by sending him down."

So, Dukes is a major league player, just not for the Nationals. The Nationals?

Rizzo did admit that the team's clubhouse will be a more "cohesive and united group" — so Dukes was somehow divisive?

Another Nats reporter, Mark Zuckerman, talked to manager Jim Riggleman, who said Dukes just isn't good enough to be an everyday right fielder in the majors. Maybe he's the classic "4-A" player.

That all might be true, but it hasn't been proven yet; Dukes has 824 major-league at-bats with mixed success.

Riggleman also said Dukes is healthy, had been working hard and "those issues his personal life" seem to be behind him.

• Via @masnBen, here's audio of Riggs on Dukes, and the right-field situation, in Washington.

• And Rizzo, on the same subjects.

C'mon, Woodward and Bernstein. The story needs to find its Deep Throat and clear this up.

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