- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2007

In May 2006, John Patterson went on the disabled list with what was then described as tightness in his right forearm.

At the time, the Washington Nationals right-hander hoped to be back on the mound within a matter of weeks. But then weeks became months, and after a brief and unsuccessful return in midsummer, Patterson had season-ending surgery to repair an irritated nerve near that forearm.

So Patterson showed up at spring training this year, in his mind healthy at long last and determined to bounce back strong and assume a leadership role in the Nationals rotation.

Then his throwing arm started giving him problems again. He couldn’t get his velocity back. He felt numbness and sometimes even pain when he tried to extend his arm fully. So he went back on the disabled list, this time with soreness in his elbow and biceps that since has been linked to a compressed nerve that runs down the length of his right arm.

All along, Patterson believed he would be back on a major league mound in short order. He began a rehab assignment at Class A Potomac and looked primed to return around this time. And then the pain and numbness returned, and so Patterson set out on a cross-country tour to visit four different doctors who might be able to shed some light on his problem.

One week and several thousand miles later, every one of Patterson’s doctors came up with the same diagnosis as Nationals team physician Ben Shaffer: compression of the radial nerve.

Now, Patterson has decided to head north to Toronto for an extensive and somewhat controversial treatment program that hasn’t been approved in the United States. Oakland Athletics closer Huston Street went through the same program last month and described an array of unusual procedures that included homeopathic injections, lasers, hyperbaric chambers and frequency-specific microcurrents. Street spent 18 days at the Toronto facility.

Patterson chose this path on his own. Nationals officials know little about it, and while they will support the 29-year-old in his efforts to get healthy, they have little other role in this matter.

If this is all starting to sound like something out of a science fiction novel or a bad horror movie, well, it’s hard to disagree.

Whether it all produces the result everyone so desires — Patterson back on the mound at RFK Stadium pitching in a major league game this season — remains to be seen.

Make no mistake, though. Patterson needs to pitch again this year. After two seasons of this now, patience is wearing dangerously thin. The Nationals are getting tired of waiting around for the talented-yet-underperforming pitcher to live up to his potential, and they may not wait around much longer.

For the first time, Patterson’s place in this franchise’s future is in serious doubt. This year’s Opening Day starter could find himself looking for a job in 2008. He’s already making $850,000 a year, and through baseball’s ridiculous arbitration rules, he will be guaranteed to make more than that next season even if he doesn’t throw another pitch in 2007.

With the emergence of Shawn Hill, Jason Bergmann and Matt Chico and the expected progression of prospects Collin Balester, John Lannan and Emiliano Fruto, the Nationals probably won’t have a need for a 30-year-old, oft-injured pitcher with 18 career wins.

Patterson would be wise to recognize that. Now, only he truly knows how much pain he’s in and how much tolerance he has to pitch through it. But unless he wants to be on the streets this winter looking for a league-minimum contract and a spring-training tryout, he has to get back out on the mound and prove that he can still pitch.

Patterson himself knew this in February, when he arrived at spring training and declared his goals for the season.

“Thirty starts, 200 innings and everything else will take care of itself,” he said.

Patterson’s stats so far this season: Seven starts, 311/3 innings.

He may not have realized it at the time, but that philosophy can work in reverse, too.

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