- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals’ John Patterson has pitched the last game in one city’s baseball history and has been with two organizations playing their first games in new cities.

“It’s actually kind of funny because I was drafted by Montreal and then granted free agency, went to Arizona [as a minor leaguer] at the beginning of their organization, so I saw an organization start,” Patterson said. “I got traded to Montreal, and I saw an organization end, and now I’m seeing a new organization begin.

“I’ve been in three spots, and I’ve kind of seen it all now. I don’t think there’s a lot of guys that have been in that situation before, so this is pretty neat.”

Somewhere in the annals of baseball trivia, Patterson’s name should come up. The 6-foot-6 right-hander was the last man to start a game for the defunct Montreal Expos.

“Yeah, it means a lot to me,” Patterson said.

Should it? The Expos’ 36-year existence came to an end with Patterson on the mound.

“No, I don’t think it means anything. He was just the last pitcher,” Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire said.

Patterson, 27, was selected by the Expos with the fifth pick overall in the 1996 draft. The Expos did not formally tender a contract offer to Patterson within 14 days of the draft, allowing him to become a “loophole” free agent and sign with the Diamondbacks for a $6.075 million bonus.

A former top prospect, Patterson was sidetracked by elbow surgery in 2000. He eventually made the majors with Arizona, pitching in 23 games (13 starts) in 2002 and 2003. After going 4-7 with a 5.03 ERA in 19 starts (the last one an 8-1 loss at the New York Mets) with Montreal last year, he is battling Zach Day and Jon Rauch to become the Nationals’ No. 5 starter.

Washington’s pitching staff, especially the rotation, has been outstanding in spring training. Other than a split-squad blowup in the fourth inning Tuesday against the Houston Astros, Patterson has been sound. And he wasn’t fazed by allowing five runs — all earned — in three innings against the Astros.

“I didn’t really have a rough night,” Patterson said. “I guess if you look at the line, and you just look at the line, it doesn’t look good. But physically I feel really good, and mechanically I feel good, and that’s really where I’m at right now.”

Before the Astros game, Patterson had allowed just one run, struck out four and walked none in five innings.

But against Houston, “he fell behind some hitters in the first inning, and he was aggressive and got ahead of hitters and then finished them off in the second and third,” St. Claire said. “… In the fourth inning, he started pitching behind more, working behind in the count and then centered some balls over the middle of the plate, and that’s when he got hit around a little bit.”

Patterson’s father, Doug, played in the Baltimore Orioles system in the 1970s. With that parental influence, Patterson grew up in Orange, Texas, playing baseball year-round in a state more rabid about football. In the 1996 draft, he was picked behind only Kris Benson, Travis Lee, Braden Looper and Billy Koch.

“In the situation I was in — being drafted as high as I was — it was kind of a no-brainer for me. It was a deal too hard to pass up,” Patterson said. “Some guys like to go to college, and some guys don’t.”

Day, who is battling Patterson for a job, has nothing but good things to say about his hard-throwing teammate. As it looks right now, if Day is indeed the No. 5 starter, Patterson and Rauch might provide long relief and be viable options to join the rotation if necessary.

“I see a hard fastball. I mean the ball’s on you, sneaky, by you before you get a chance,” Day said of Patterson’s low to mid-90 mph fastball. “He’s so tall and he’s lengthy, and he’s got a hammer [curveball] on him. When he’s got it going good, he can bury some guys with that hammer.”

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