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 WASHINGTON (AP) -Paul Lo Duca and Lastings Milledge rose to pose for photos in their crisp, white Washington Nationals jerseys Tuesday, standing in front of a colorful sketch of the team's new ballpark.
The two ex-Mets and Nationals Park are hardly the only changes for this franchise. No major league club has been busier of late than the Nationals, who have reshaped their roster with a mix of long- and short-term fixes.
``They've done a lot to get us better,'' third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said in a telephone interview. ``We went out and got some talented young players that could develop into really good players, and then we went out and got some veteran players that know how to play the game and can keep things in order.''
Milledge, a 22-year-old outfielder, would fit into the first category, as would other recent acquisitions Elijah Dukes, a 23-year-old outfielder with a checkered past, and Tyler Clippard, a 22-year-old right-hander who could wind up in the starting rotation.
Lo Duca, a catcher who'll turn 36 in the season's first month, and 34-year-old infielder Aaron Boone (son of Nationals assistant general manager Bob Boone) fit into the second category.
All were added in trades or free-agent signings over the past two weeks. And no one should be surprised if general manager Jim Bowden does more to a club that ended a string of three consecutive last-place finishes in the NL East by moving up one spot to fourth with a 73-89 record in 2007.
``Jim - he's not done yet,'' manager Manny Acta said Tuesday, sitting at a news conference with Lo Duca, Milledge and Bowden. ``That's why I'm not even thinking about a lineup yet, because I know he's going to keep on working and continue to make our team better. It is a totally different ballclub.''
Giving guys another chance is a hallmark of Bowden's career as a GM, and he might be in the process of turning the Nationals into baseball's version of the NFL's Oakland Raiders: A team known for picking up players other teams shy from.
That was the case with Dmitri Young, who was out of baseball late in the 2006 season and had all sorts of personal problems. The Nationals brought him into spring training this year and stuck him with the kids at the minor league facility - and how did that work out?
Young thrived. He hit .320 with 74 RBIs, made the NL All-Star team, won comeback player of the year honors, and became a clubhouse leader.
Perhaps emboldened by that, Bowden traded with the Tampa Bay Rays for Dukes, whose history of problems includes being accused of violating a protective court order his estranged wife obtained after she said he threatened her and the couple's children.
``We think this was a chance for us to get a talent at minimal risk. And with the people we have in place, and the programs we have in place, we also thought it had a very significant chance of succeeding,'' Nationals president Stan Kasten said. ``We hope it does. If it doesn't, I guess we'll turn the page.''
Milledge's reputation is not sterling, though his back story is in a whole different league from that of Dukes.
Bowden made reference to one of Milledge's missteps while with the Mets - putting out a rap CD with offensive lyrics - by saying at Tuesday's news conference: ``And he will not be singing today, by the way.''
There's far less risk involved with acquiring Milledge, even if he did cost two veteran regulars: catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church.
``I wouldn't look at it as starting over. I am what I am. I am who I am,'' Milledge said. ``I don't think I'm a bad person. I think I'm a great kid.''
Lo Duca, Milledge's teammate in New York, offered this assessment: ``I really feel you're going to see a superstar in the making. It's just a matter of him keeping his head on straight. And he knows that.''
The Nationals know Bowden's history, and they're not surprised to see the sorts of additions he makes.
``Jim is very good at what he does, in the sense of finding guys other people might have overlooked - diamonds in the rough - and giving them a chance,'' pitcher Shawn Hill said by telephone. ``It's just him taking a calculated risk. If one of them pans out, it's one more solid player than he had before.''
Does Bowden want his team to be known as ``The Second-Chance Nats''?
``That's not what we want to be about. We want to be about a first-class organization with first-class people who have high character and high passion,'' he said. ``If you have five kids, not all are going to be perfect. If you have four good kids and one that gets in trouble, you don't run away from the one - you try to help reel the one in.''

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