- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — John Patterson’s chances of winning the final spot in the Washington Nationals’ starting rotation were dealt a blow yesterday when the right-hander discovered he has an injured right hip flexor that will prevent him from making his scheduled start today.

Patterson, who was due to throw 60 to 65 pitches this morning in a minor league game, said he began feeling tightness in his hip sometime after his last appearance Tuesday against the Houston Astros, though he’s not sure exactly what caused it.

“The other night I was pitching in the rain. Maybe I extended the muscle while I was playing,” said Patterson, who is trying to win the job from incumbent Zach Day. “It’s nothing I can put my finger on and say this is when it happened. I don’t know.”

The Nationals don’t consider the injury serious, but they apparently didn’t want to take any chances with Patterson, who spent 10 weeks on the disabled list last season with a strained groin.

The 27-year-old does not believe the ailment will keep him from being ready by Opening Day.

“No, not at all,” he said. “This is very minor. If I start [today] and I push it and make it worse, then that carries over into the season. So it’s better to be smart now and take care of it.”

Patterson was making a strong case to supplant Day after allowing just one run and three hits in his first five innings of work this spring. But he was tagged by the Astros on Tuesday for five runs and seven hits in three innings, then watched as Day put together five outstanding innings the following night against the Atlanta Braves to reclaim his front-running status.

Lerner tours complex

Mark Lerner, whose family is pursuing ownership of the Nationals, attended yesterday’s game and took a tour of the club’s spring training complex.

Lerner, son of Washington-area developer Ted Lerner, met general manager Jim Bowden, manager Frank Robinson and other key members of the organization during batting practice, then watched the game with several partners from a box next to the Nationals’ dugout.

Lerner is no stranger to the Washington sports scene — his family has minority stakes in the Wizards, Capitals and Mystics — but he has been keeping a low profile when it comes to bidding on the Nationals.

“We are trying to stay low key,” he said. “All of [the prospective owners] try to stay in the background. It’s the right thing to do. We are going to figure out everything we can about the organization. We have to learn every part of the business, where the problems are and where to make changes. You have to create your budgets and figure out a value for the team.”

Ohka looking good

Immediately after the Nationals’ 8-2 rout of the Cleveland Indians, Nationals manager Frank Robinson said pitcher Tomo Ohka is not quite ready for his first regular-season start, but Ohka’s performances beg to differ.

One day after turning 28, Ohka pitched well yesterday for the third straight time this spring training. Ohka humbled the Indians by allowing just one run on three hits in five innings.

Ohka has pitched 11 innings in the Grapefruit League and has allowed just one run in three games and struck out eight.

Ohka’s only run of the spring came on Indians pitcher Jason Bere’s home run on a hanging slider to lead off the third inning yesterday.

“Sometimes that happens,” Ohka said of Bere’s homer.

It appears Ohka is in command of all of his pitches. Ohka says he has six pitches in his arsenal, but his slider needs fine-tuning.

“My slider is not good, I need to try more,” Ohka said.

Ohka is pleased with where he is at this stage of spring training. He’ll have two more Grapefruit League starts before the April4 season opener in Philadelphia.

In yesterday’s game, Ohka escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second inning when he got shortstop Brandon Phillips to fly out to right field.

“A couple times they had a guy on third base with two outs and he got out of the inning,” Nationals catcher Brian Schneider said. “That’s the biggest thing when you can get out of key situations. It’s one thing to pitch when there’s nobody on base. He did a good job with guys on base.”

Vidro on Alomar

Nationals second baseman Jose Vidro was saddened by Roberto Alomar’s unexpected retirement yesterday from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Vidro, who grew up idolizing Alomar in his native Puerto Rico, switched positions to second base as a youngster just to be like the 12-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner.

“It’s really a very sad day, especially for me, because he was always my idol,” Vidro said of his countryman. “I learned a lot from him. I’m pretty sure it was a tough decision for him. An unbelievable career, I’m sure in my mind, sure in everyone’s mind, there’s no doubt that he’s going to be a Hall of Famer.

“He gave me a lot of feedback in my career. It makes you feel proud when you see a person you know do all the things, and especially since he is a friend. I was playing third base, right field, left field, everywhere as a kid growing up. Once I saw him for the first time, that’s when I said I want to be a second baseman, I want to be like him. When I got to know him, it meant a lot to me.”

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