Continued from page 2

When the Nationals debut their new ballpark on national television Sunday night, they’ll most likely be sending a 30-year-old journeyman named Odalis Perez to the mound. Perez, while a serviceable big-league pitcher, wouldn’t fit anyone’s description of an ace.

But such is the current state of the Washington rotation. Team officials hoped to give the ball on Opening Night to either Shawn Hill or John Patterson, but both right-handers’ lingering injury troubles put an end to those plans.

Hill, whose trademark sinker can be virtually unhittable at times, hasn’t been able to overcome tightness in his right forearm and will open the season on the disabled list. The club hopes he’ll be ready within a couple of weeks, but given Hill’s injury history — surgeries on his right elbow, left shoulder and right forearm — there are no guarantees anymore.

Patterson, too, was capable of dominating opposing hitters and put it all together in 2005 to do just that for the Nationals. But his career has been derailed time and again by injuries, and after making only 15 combined starts the last two seasons and then struggling to reach 85 mph with his fastball this spring, the club decided enough was enough. Patterson, last season’s Opening Day starter, was released less than a year later.

Even so, executives around baseball expected another team to snatch up Patterson before long, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with a right-hander high on talent but seemingly doomed to be hurt.

“Certainly there’s always risk,” Bowden said upon announcing the Patterson release. “We all saw what happened with Chris Carpenter in Toronto when they finally cut the ties and he went on to win a Cy Young [in St. Louis] and got the team to the World Series. Nothing is ever for sure in baseball.”

No, there are no guarantees in this sport, certainly not when it comes to young pitchers. But it’s the Catch-22 of building an organization: As difficult as it is to develop pitchers, you can’t win without them.

Which is why the Nationals were cautiously optimistic as they scanned those bullpen mounds in Viera, Fla., this spring and saw promising young pitcher after promising young pitcher.

For a franchise that has spent years trying to find an ace, that was a beautiful scene.

“That’s the clearest testimony we can point to of this organization accomplishing what we’ve been trying to do,” Kasten said. “Whatever happens up here in Washington with our rotation, we know there’s another wave on its way. It’s a very exciting time for us.”