- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2007

SAN DIEGO John Patterson sat in front of a computer screen yesterday afternoon, pitching coach Randy St. Claire at his side, and immersed himself in a meticulous study of his mechanics. Analyzing each frame of video taken from his outing Monday night, the Washington Nationals right-hander found much to like about himself, enough to leave him feeling as confident as he has in some time.

“I’m getting there. I’m getting close, I really am,” Patterson said. “That doesn’t mean there might not be a step back at some point. But I’m really feeling pretty confident and getting closer to where I need to be.”

The tangible evidence of that came on the field the previous night, when Patterson authored his best start of the season: six innings of one-run ball in the Nationals’ 3-2 victory over the San Diego Padres.

For the first time since a nerve injury in his throwing arm ruined his 2006 campaign, Patterson looked and felt like a dominant major league pitcher. His velocity, so scrutinized through the season’s first month, was up around 90 mph and stayed there throughout the game. His breaking balls had snap. His stamina was good. And most impressively to Washington manager Manny Acta, his body language suggested he was back to his old self.

“I could see,” Acta said. “He was jogging to the mound in between innings. His mound presence, he was ready to go out against their No. 1 like he was doing two years ago.”

Patterson outdueled Padres ace Jake Peavy to earn his first win in six starts, a source of much relief for the 29-year-old. Despite all that, he wasn’t all smiles in the clubhouse afterward. The result may have resembled 2005, but the mechanics still left much to be desired.

“No, I don’t think I’m there,” Patterson said. “You need to understand, I’m happy about the way things have gone, I am. But you’ve got to understand, too, I still have some work to do to get to where I want to be, to feel like me again.”

His manager and pitching coach concurred, and both agreed they prefer Patterson wasn’t totally satisfied with his performance.

“That’s good,” Acta said. “Once you were as dominant as John was two years ago and have the reputation that he has around the league, at his age, he doesn’t want to come down from that level. Not yet. He’s going to do everything possible to get back up to the level he was at two years ago.”

Which meant another lengthy video session with St. Claire before last night’s game at Petco Park. The two have spent countless hours studying the minutiae of Patterson’s mechanics, closely scrutinizing his arm slot, his body balance, the positioning of his left shoulder, hip and foot.

All of Washington’s pitchers use the video technology to some extent, but Patterson always has made it a crucial part of his preparation.

“I’m watching more video than you could possibly imagine,” he said.

“He likes looking at it because it shows you exactly,” St. Claire said. “It gives you your mind’s view. Because what you feel and what you actually are doing are a lot of times really, really different.”

St. Claire has been encouraged by what he has seen from Patterson since his April 25 outing in Philadelphia, including his between-starts bullpen session last weekend, and says his No. 1 starter is approaching his 2005 form.

“He’s still a little ways to go with it,” St. Claire said. “But he’s getting much closer.”

Of course, Patterson remains the statistically least-effective member of the Nationals rotation. Even with Monday’s win, he’s 1-4 with a 6.44 ERA, having put 51 men on base in only 29 innings.

He will be the first to admit he’s a perfectionist and won’t be satisfied until he returns all the way back to his pre-injury form. But he also knows he’s feeling better than he has in a long time, and there have been brief moments in recent days in which everything felt like it was coming together.

“I’ll tell you what, the other day when I was throwing in the bullpen and long-tossing, I really, really felt like me,” Patterson said. “So it’s there. And that’s positive, and that’s what I keep in the back of my mind.”

Notes Injured shortstop Cristian Guzman played nine innings in an extended spring training game yesterday in Viera, Fla., and likely will be activated off the 15-day disabled list in time for next week’s series in Milwaukee. Acta said when Guzman (out since Opening Day with a strained hamstring) does return, he will get his starting job back, meaning veteran Ronnie Belliard will be sent to the bench.

“Guzman is ours, and we need to fix him,” Acta said. “We need to see the player that was in Minnesota a couple years ago, and I think he earned that right with the kind of spring that he had.”

Nook Logan, also rehabbing in Viera, tripled in a game yesterday, but Acta said the center fielder needs more at-bats than Guzman to return from his sprained foot.

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