- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals waited more than two years to see whether John Patterson could overcome arm injuries and recapture the form that once had the organization tabbing the right-hander as its long-term ace.

Yesterday the Nationals decided they couldn’t wait any longer.

The club released Patterson, a shocking move that leaves Washington’s five-man rotation further unsettled nine days before the season opener at Nationals Park.

The decision, club officials said, came down to Patterson’s velocity and command not returning to their pre-injury levels, and there was no reason to believe the situation would improve anytime soon.

“We kept hoping we could get back to the form that he was in three years ago, and it just never happened,” general manager Jim Bowden said.

Though Patterson insists he’s healthy, his performance this spring left plenty to be desired. He allowed seven runs and 13 hits in nine Grapefruit League innings, but of bigger concern was his lack of velocity: a fastball that was consistently 93 mph or higher in 2005 now barely registers 85 mph.

The final straw might have come Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where the Baltimore Orioles tagged the 30-year-old hurler for six runs and eight hits in four innings. He threw once more off a bullpen mound Tuesday and said he was pleased with his work.

But Patterson, who had signed a nonguaranteed, major league contract in December, had a hunch this might happen. So he admittedly wasn’t shocked when Bowden informed him yesterday of his release.

“I’m not hurt,” he said. “I just think it was that I didn’t progress as fast as they wanted me to progress. After what I’ve been through the last two years, I just think it was a risk they weren’t willing to take.”

The Nationals were willing to wait as long as they did on Patterson because of his performance in 2005, when he went 9-7 with a 3.13 ERA in 31 starts. Patterson, though, never came close again to resembling that pitcher. He made only 15 combined starts the last two seasons, going 2-7 with a 5.75 ERA and twice needing surgery to decompress a couple of nerves in his right arm.

Patterson came to camp this spring believing a rotation spot was his if he proved he was healthy. But the Nationals looked for more than that, a message that wasn’t always made clear.

Even when Patterson didn’t look sharp on the mound, manager Manny Acta spoke encouragingly because at least the right-hander was healthy. But Bowden wasn’t pleased with the lack of zip on Patterson’s fastball and told the pitcher he needed to throw with full force following his first exhibition start.

“I think I was caught in between sometimes about what should I do,” Patterson said. “I know that Manny wants to see me get outs. But if Jim wanted to see me throw my fastball, it’s like, what do you do?”

Conflicting messages or not, Patterson leaves the Nationals on good terms. He will receive severance pay equal to one-fourth of his $850,000 salary (roughly $212,500).

“I have great memories of Washington, D.C., and of this organization,” he said. “I’ll always remember what it felt like to wear this uniform. I have no hard feelings at all, and I never will. Jim stuck by me, I believe, as long as he could stick by me, and I think that’s the truth.”

The Nationals would not say who will take Patterson’s spot in the rotation, though Bowden and Acta indicated it will be one of two young left-handers: John Lannan or Matt Chico.

Asked yesterday afternoon who is assured of a spot in the rotation at this point, Acta named only two right-handers: Tim Redding and Jason Bergmann. Following last night”s game against the Houston Astros, the club purchased the contract of Odalis Perez, ensuring the veteran lefty also will make the rotation.

Notes — Bret Boone was reassigned to minor league camp, but the 38-year-old second baseman isn’t giving up on his attempted comeback. He said he’s willing to start the season at Class AAA Columbus in an attempt to return to the majors. …

Right-hander Shawn Hill will throw 40 pitches to live hitters today, the next step in his return from a forearm injury. Hill plans to pitch two innings in a minor league game Monday and said he remains hopeful he can start April 13 for the Nationals as their No. 5 starter, though he was placed on the 15-day disabled list last night along with reliever Ryan Wagner and outfielder Wily Mo Pena.

PATTERSON’S ROCKY PATH

John Patterson’s career with the Nationals franchise included both highs and lows, all of which culminated yesterday with his release. A look back at the right-hander’s time with the organization:

2004: Traded from Arizona to Montreal for left-hander Randy Choate during the final week of spring training.

 Went 4-7 with a 5.03 ERA in 19 starts, spent nearly three months on the DL with a strained groin.

2005: Set career highs with nine wins, a 3.13 ERA, 1981/3 innings and 185 strikeouts.

 Struck out 13 Dodgers during an Aug. 4 shutout at RFK Stadium, the only shutout of his career.

2006: Went 1-2 with a 4.43 ERA in eight starts, missing extended periods of time with arm injuries.

 Had surgery July 20 to decompress the median nerve in his right arm, ending his season.

2007: Went 1-5 with a 7.47 ERA in seven starts, missing extended periods of time with similar arm injuries.

 Had surgery Sept. 14 to decompress the radial nerve in his right arm, ending his season.

2008: Released by the Nationals after posting a 7.00 ERA in three spring training starts.

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