ST. PETERSBURG — Elijah Dukes was playing Friday — a two-run double in his first at-bat, three outs after that and a strong throw — but he wasn't talking.
The Tampa native and controversial former Ray decided to "take a pass" on speaking to the media before and after his first game back, a Nationals spokesman said. The Tropicana Field fans spoke, booing him in each at-bat; a small contingent of friends and relatives cheered him.
Nationals officials spoke for Dukes, manager Manny Acta saying the 24-year-old rightfielder — troubled by a series of legal and off-field issues — has handled himself well as a player and a person.
"I believe he's making progress as a human being," Acta said. "How long is it going to take? I don't know. But we haven't had any issues."
Nats president Stan Kasten said that is a product of how the team has handled Dukes, by reducing attention on him and his problems and providing extensive support, including a personal attendant. It also has helped, he said, that Dukes is no longer playing at home.
"You haven't seen him associated with anything bad or questionable or negative since he's joined us, and part of that is the structure that we've put in place and the support system," Kasten said. "But the lion's share of the credit goes to Elijah himself. Whether it's experience or growing up or just determination to succeed, I think it's been a positive for him as well as for us."
Kasten said the Nats try to treat Dukes like any other player, though that isn't necessarily the case. In addition to the intensive personal support, they have limited media access to him and monitored his interviews.
Kasten also suggested Dukes is treated unfairly by the media, that "because of Elijah's background I think he gets more attention than deserved when there are issues."