- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — Going into spring training, the Washington Nationals envisioned John Patterson showcasing his vast potential with double-digit wins in his first season as the team’s No. 1 starter.

In theory, it was a great plan. Unfortunately, reality has Patterson still searching for that elusive first win of the season.

Patterson’s troubles continued in a 9-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies last night. Chase Utley went 5-for-5 with two doubles and three RBI and Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins each hit two-run homers before 23,526 at Citizens Bank Park.

Patterson (0-4) allowed six earned runs on eight hits in 51/3 innings. Meanwhile, the Nationals (6-15) have lost four straight games and six of their last eight. Washington will try to avoid being swept today when Shawn Hill (1-2, 2.92 ERA) faces Philadelphia left-hander Cole Hamels (2-0, 2.57) in the series finale.

Despite Patterson’s struggles, Nationals manager Manny Acta saw plenty of positives in his pitcher’s performance.

“I like what I saw today, I think he’s making progress,” Acta said. “He was able to maintain his velocity today. Obviously, he still doesn’t have his strikeout power, but he could compete with what he had today. He maintained his 88, sometimes 89 miles an hour fastball and we didn’t see the dropoff in velocity like we saw in the other outings. Other than not having command of his breaking ball, he threw the ball well.”

Things got bad for Patterson with two outs in the third inning. Nationals left fielder Robert Fick, who was making just his second start of the season in left field, misplayed a liner by Utley off the fence, resulting in a double. Two pitches later, Howard drilled Patterson’s 1-0 fastball nearly 400 feet into the right-field stands for his third home run of the season and a 3-0 lead.

“I was just trying to get ahead of him,” Patterson said. “In that situation, you don’t want to get behind him. I actually kind of felt a little more comfortable with lefties today than I did with some of the right-handed hitters. I didn’t want to lose Howard to get to the righty [Burrell] on deck.”

The Nationals cut the Phillies’ lead to 3-1 in the fourth when Dmitri Young lined a single to right that scored Felipe Lopez, who started off the inning with a bloop single to left field. Washington added a second run in the inning when Austin Kearns doubled off the top of the center field fence to drive in Young from first.

But the Phillies answered with one run in the fifth inning and three more runs the next inning. Utley — whose five hits were a career high — delivered what was perhaps the final knockout blow in the sixth with a two-run single that gave Philadelphia a 7-2 lead.

The Nationals got one run back in the seventh when a run scored on a fielder’s choice after Phillies reliever Matt Smith walked three batters. Rollins, though, added two more runs in the eighth when he hit his NL-leading eighth home run of the season off of Washington reliever Jesus Colome.

Patterson entered spring training as the Nationals’ No. 1 starter and the only starting pitcher with a guaranteed spot in the rotation.

After last night’s performance, Patterson owns the second-highest ERA (7.71) among Nationals starters after Jerome Williams’ 7.77 mark. Combined, Patterson and Williams are 0-8 on the season.

However, Patterson is trying to focus on positives rather than negatives.

“You’ve pretty much got to throw that stuff [statistics] out of the window,” Patterson said. “If I was out there throwing 93 or 94 and my curveballs are sharp and I had four pitches working and I was 0-4 with a kazillion ERA or whatever it is, then you would have something to scratch your head about. But at this point right now, it’s to go out there and get better every time.”

The suddenly red-hot Phillies (9-11) have won five straight and are playing themselves back into contention in the NL East. Phillies starter Jon Lieber began this season in the Phillies’ bullpen. His role quickly changed when manager Charlie Manuel jettisoned Opening Day starter Brett Myers to the bullpen after three starts.

That move looked like a stroke of genius early in this game. Lieber mowed through the Nationals’ batting order with ease the first time through. Lieber retired the first nine batters he faced, including five strikeouts. Lieber’s five strikeouts after the first three innings matched his season high.

Want more Nats? Check out Nats Home Plate.

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