- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2007

ATLANTA — If John Patterson truly is going to become the ace of the Washington Nationals’ pitching staff, he knows he’s going to have to be counted on to perform when his team needs him most.

And given the way the season’s first 10 days have gone for the Nationals, Patterson’s start tonight against the New York Mets already can be considered crucial.

“Yeah, I need to pitch well, I do,” the right-hander said. “It’s my job basically this year. When we’re on a slide, I have to stop it.”

The problem: Patterson has not pitched well so far this season as he continues to work his way back from surgery last summer on his throwing arm. He allowed six runs in 32/3 innings to the Florida Marlins on Opening Day, and though he was better five nights later against the Arizona Diamondbacks (three runs in five innings), he admits he’s still not in top form.

“I’m rusty,” he said. “As much work as you do, you’re a little bit rusty, and you’ve got to knock it all off and get that feel and touch in your delivery back. But I’m getting close.”

Patterson’s velocity was noticeably down in his first two starts, which he attributes to cold weather and some mechanical glitches he has been working to fix over the last week.

Given the drop in velocity and his overall struggles, Patterson has been hearing questions about the state of his arm and whether he has recovered from his surgery. He insists his arm is fine and he just needs time to get back into form.

Nationals manager Manny Acta concurs and says there’s no pressure on Patterson to get it all back now.

“We’re going to be a little bit more patient with John than in any other situation,” Acta said. “He’s coming back from surgery. It’s tough weather to pitch in. He’s not going to carry this team by himself.”

King to DL

Though an MRI taken on his left shoulder showed no structural damage, reliever Ray King was placed on the 15-day disabled list yesterday with tendinitis.

The veteran left-hander would have had to shut himself down for several days anyway while receiving anti-inflammatory medication, so the club decided it might as well put him on the DL and recall right-handed reliever Saul Rivera from Class AAA Columbus.

King, who had a 12.27 ERA in five appearances before departing Tuesday’s game during the ninth inning, is not expected to miss more than two weeks.

It’s only the second time he has gone on the DL in his nine-year career (he was out 15 days with elbow tendinitis in 2002) despite 519 major league appearances.

“That was the hardest part about this: never being hurt and never knowing what to expect,” King said. “I was asking everybody around: ‘Have you ever had this? Have you ever had that?’ I’ve been fortunate. The man above has let me pitch as long as I have without any trouble. Thankfully at the end of the day, it’s just tendinitis.”

Rivera, who went 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA in 54 games last season, was due to arrive at Turner Field in time for last night’s game.

No hard feelings

Acta’s first game at Shea Stadium since leaving the Mets’ coaching staff to take over the Nationals won’t be an emotional affair.

“I just want to win,” Acta said. “I don’t care whether it’s against the Mets or the St. Paul Saints. I just want to win. I want to stop this losing streak. I don’t get more satisfaction by beating the Mets. I didn’t leave there with any bitterness. I was actually treated like a king.”

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