- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

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VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals right-hander John Patterson will get about only half the money he wanted.

Patterson lost his salary arbitration case yesterday in Phoenix and was awarded $850,000. He entered arbitration seeking $1.85 million. Patterson made $450,000 last year.

Arbitrators Elliott Shriftman, Dan Brent and Stephen Goldberg heard Patterson’s case yesterday and ruled in favor of the Nationals. Patterson went 1-2 with a 4.43 ERA in just eight starts last season until an elbow injury ended his season in early July.

Closer Chad Cordero is the only remaining Nationals player with unsettled contract matters. Cordero, whose case will be heard Feb. 20 in Arizona, is asking for $4.5 million. The Nationals are offering $3.65 million. Cordero made $525,000 last season.

In the past week, Cordero and the Nationals began negotiations on a long-term, multi-year deal.

A new outlook

Nationals catcher Brian Schneider jokingly said outfielder Ryan Church has a new motto this season: “New year, same attitude.”

Schneider’s standup material even drew a smile from Church, whose inconsistency last season was highlighted by multiple trips to the minors and back. The outfielder said he had the wrong attitude entering last year.

Church said his problems started when he failed to make the club’s Opening Day roster out of spring training. He is one of a handful of position players yesterday that reported to camp early.

“I just lost focus, I had the wrong attitude coming in, thinking that things were secure enough when it really wasn’t,” Church said. “It’s something you have to go in and earn year in and year out.”

Former manager Frank Robinson chose to start Brandon Watson in center field on Opening Day last year instead of Church.

However, strong second-half numbers last season helped Church post career highs in several offensive categories. In 71 games, Church batted .276 with 17 doubles, 10 home runs and 35 RBI. His doubles, home runs, 26 walks, and six stolen bases all were career highs despite 71 fewer plate appearances.

For now, Church appears to be the front runner for the club’s starting left field job, though Kory Casto and Chris Snelling are competing for the same spot.

Church fell out of favor with club’s brass in the offseason because he didn’t play winter league baseball. The Nationals wanted Church to play in Mexico and become a better breaking ball hitter. But the Mexican team wanted a different outfielder and didn’t have a roster spot for Church.

Church, however, completed an extensive visual training program during the winter that helps him to better see the ball.

“[The Nationals front office] already said we’re going young,” Church said. “For me, I’ve got to take it as a challenge, go out there and outplay these guys. That’s all I can do.”

The setup man

Reliever Luis Ayala, one of baseball’s top middle relievers, definitely would have made a difference last year for the Nationals’ beleaguered bullpen.

Ayala missed the entire season after injuring his right elbow while pitching for his native Mexico in March’s inaugural World Baseball Classic. He underwent Tommy John surgery and was lost for the season.

Ayala wouldn’t say if he’s completely healed, but he said his arm feels good. For now, Ayala said, he’s only throwing about five pitches.

“I don’t know what the plan for me is,” said Ayala, who began throwing off the mound last month. “I came in here in shape, I feel great. My arm is in good condition right now.”

The Nationals plan to bring the reliever along slowly, however.

“There are limitations, like 25 pitches, 30 pitches,” Ayala said. “I’ve got to wait for the fifth day before I can throw a bullpen and see some hitters and how my arm feels after throwing breaking balls and changes. They [the coaching staff] want to see how my arm feels. My job is to play baseball. I’m going to try and get my position. I know I year one year and all the guys coming up as relievers. The most important thing is when you feel good, you can do what you can do.”

Not here yet

Because of visa problems, six Dominican pitchers did not report to camp yesterday. Right-handers Jesus Colome, Felix Diaz, Anastacio Martinez, Eduardo Valdez, and left-handers Luis Martinez and Arnie Munoz were absent. Catcher Juan Brito also was absent. None of the pitchers are on the club’s 40-man roster and all are considered long shots to make the club’s Opening Day roster.

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