- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It will be another week before Washington Nationals right-hander John Patterson returns to the team’s starting rotation.

Yesterday, Patterson said he will make another rehab start — Saturday at Class A Potomac — and is targeting next Friday against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards for his long-awaited return.

“I just spoke to [general manager] Jim [Bowden]. I’m going to throw in Potomac on Saturday, just to stretch my pitches out a little more,” Patterson said. “Things are going real well right now, but one more start is probably the smart play.”

On Monday in New Orleans, Patterson pitched 42/3 innings and allowed two runs — one earned — on four hits in his second rehab assignment. Patterson, who threw 76 pitches, walked two and struck out three for the Nationals’ Class AAA affiliate Zephyrs.

“I felt good, I felt strong. … As the game went along, I felt a lot stronger,” said Patterson, who is 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in four major league starts this season. “It feels good today. Day 2 is normally the day I might feel a little soreness. But it feels a lot better than it has in a long time.”

Patterson has been on the 15-day DL since April 28 (retroactive to April 22) with a right forearm strain. There was hope that Patterson could return to the active roster this week and pitch against the New York Yankees in the upcoming three-game interleague series at RFK Stadium.

The Nationals would like to see Patterson throw around 100 pitches and work past the sixth inning before facing major league hitters.

With Patterson’s activation delayed another week, promising rookie right-hander Shawn Hill will make his fourth start Friday to open the sereis against the Yankees. Had Patterson returned, Hill (1-1, 1.80 ERA) was a candidate to either be sent back to New Orleans or to the bullpen.

Center fielder search

It’s a growing list: Marlon Byrd, Ryan Church, Damian Jackson, Brandon Watson and Alex Escobar.

All have played center field for the Nationals this season, but none has distinguished himself. Throw in Brad Wilkerson, Preston Wilson and Endy Chavez from last season, and the team has used seven center fielders with varying results.

“He’s not here. What we’ve identified is that we need a center fielder,” Robinson said.

For now, the slumping Byrd is the Nationals’ best option. Byrd, who is hitting .220 this season, was just 7-for-43 (.163) in his last 15 games coming into last night’s game against the Colorado Rockies..

Byrd has good tools and has shown that he is an above-average defensive player. But his hitting mechanics need to be overhauled.

“To get him to where I think he needs to be, you would have to break him and start over from step one,” Robinson said. “That’s very difficult to do to a major league guy that is battling for survival. You try to work within his framework of doing things and try to make it as simple as possible and try to get into a little bit at a time where at least he can have some success.

“He’s a long way from where I would like to see him and he always has been, but he is closer now then he was when he came here.”

Extra bases

Backup first baseman/outfielder Daryle Ward was sent home before yesterday’s game with flu-like symptoms. Ward, who is listed as day-to-day, has belted three pinch-hit home runs this season. Ward is tied with Milwaukee’s Gabe Gross for most pinch-hit homers in the majors this season.

Staff writer Mark Zuckerman contributed to this article.

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