- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — John Patterson threw his first bullpen session of the spring yesterday and walked away encouraged by the results.

“It just felt good to be on a dirt mound, you know?” the Washington Nationals right-hander said. “Be outside throwing in a uniform. Overall it went good.”

Patterson, who is attempting to return from two years’ worth of nerve injuries in his right arm that required two separate surgeries, threw all four of his pitches (fastball, slider, curveball, change-up) during an eight-minute session in front of manager Manny Acta, general manager Jim Bowden and pitching coach Randy St. Claire.

The 30-year-old pitcher was particularly encouraged that he could “finish” his delivery — extending his arm fully after releasing the ball, something he could not do last year.

While interested in Patterson’s mechanics, St. Claire also paid attention to the pitcher’s demeanor and body language.

“His mind and just the way he’s carrying himself on the field, it looks like he’s relaxed and free,” St. Claire said. “It doesn’t look like there’s doubt right now about whether he’s healthy or that. He looks good.”

Patterson was excited just to be able to pitch without worrying about the status of his right arm.

“When you don’t have to think about your arm, it helps a tremendous amount,” he said. “Overall, it was a real good first day.”

Mainstays arrive

Several key position players reported to camp yesterday and took part in an informal round of batting practice once pitchers and catchers were finished.

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and infielder Felipe Lopez, who arrived Sunday, were joined by first baseman Dmitri Young, infielder Aaron Boone and outfielder Ryan Langerhans in the cage. Right fielder Austin Kearns also reported but wasn’t in uniform.

Zimmerman looked particularly sharp at the plate and in the field, clearly healthy following surgery in October to remove the broken hamate bone in his left wrist.

Young, though, was a bit rusty, failing to hit the ball out of the infield in his first round of batting practice before finding his groove later on.

“That was the first time I picked up a bat since facing Jamie Moyer at the end of the year,” he said. “I purposely did that to spend time working on my diabetes and dropping pounds and just getting ready for this upcoming season.”

Extra bases

Bret Boone might not be the only veteran to sign with the Nationals this week. Washington has been in discussions with left-hander Odalis Perez on a minor league contract, according to team sources.

Details of the deal are still to be finalized, but Perez (who went 8-11 last season for the Kansas City Royals) would serve as insurance for the Nationals’ rotation should it be struck by injuries this spring. …

One of the Nationals’ minor goals this spring is to identify an emergency catcher who could fill in if both Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada got hurt. Team president Stan Kasten joked earlier this month that Aaron Boone might hold down that role, but manager Manny Acta shot down that possibility yesterday, citing Boone’s recent knee surgery.

Boone agreed but said he would be willing to consider getting behind the plate in an emergency, though his form might have to be a little unconventional.

“I’d bring back the Tony Pena, the leg sticking out,” he said. “I don’t know how long I could squat.”

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