Friday, April 20, 2007

John Patterson can’t throw a baseball more than 89 mph right now, and that is a source of immense frustration for the Washington Nationals right-hander.

Jamie Moyer, meanwhile, can’t throw a baseball more than 79 mph, but that doesn’t seem to bother the Philadelphia Phillies lefty one bit.

Maybe Albert Einstein could have appreciated this. Call it baseball’s theory of relativity. Radar readings mean different things to different pitchers, a fact unquestionably on display yesterday in the Nationals’ 4-2 loss at RFK Stadium.

“Velocity’s nice, but don’t talk to me about velocity,” Washington manager Manny Acta said. “Jamie Moyer was throwing today below the [normal] speed and got us out for eight innings. You’ve got to locate your pitches and make pitches when you have to.”

The 44-year-old Moyer has been proving that theory true for ages. Perhaps the softest thrower in baseball, he still finds a way to get the job done. And yesterday he had the Nationals frustrated, carrying a two-hit shutout into the ninth before allowing back-to-back doubles to Ryan Zimmerman and Dmitri Young.

On the other side of the field, Patterson was lamenting his latest struggle: a four-inning, three-run exercise in frustration that left the 29-year-old trying to convince himself and others that he’s going to be all right.

Nine months removed from surgery to repair an impinged nerve near his right elbow, Patterson hasn’t come close to recapturing his old velocity or stamina. In four starts this season, he’s now 0-3 with a 7.00 ERA and 34 baserunners allowed in just 18 total innings.

“I’m taking it to the mound every start and doing the best that I can do with what I’m working with right now,” he said. “I’m having to swallow a lot of pride right now, to be honest with you. That’s not easy to do.”

Not when Patterson is used to being able to throw a 95 mph fastball instead of the mid-to-upper 80s pitches he threw yesterday. The loss in velocity has had stunning results. Knowing he can’t throw like he did during his breakthrough 2005 season, Patterson is reluctant on the mound. He’s falling behind hitters, and when he does find the plate, he’s getting tagged.

It took only two Philadelphia batters yesterday before Patterson and the Nationals were down 1-0. Jimmy Rollins led the game off with a bloop double to left, then scored moments later on Shane Victorino’s single past first baseman Dmitri Young.

And when Patterson hung a 2-2 curveball to Aaron Rowand leading off the second, the Phillies center fielder promptly deposited it over the left-field bullpen to give his club a 2-0 lead.

In explaining the surrendered home run, Patterson again pointed to his drop his velocity.

“I started that curveball right where I’d normally start a curveball,” he said. “It’s not the same. It doesn’t have the sharpness. It doesn’t have the velocity that it would normally have. It just kind of sits there.”

Patterson and the Nationals remain confident his arm strength will come back as this season plays out. The pitcher compared his recovery process from this surgery to the long and frustrating road he took back from elbow ligament replacement surgery seven years ago.

His arm doesn’t hurt. It just needs time to get its strength and stamina back to where it was pre-injury, when he had no trouble pitching into the seventh or eighth inning.

“My cutoff right now is about the fifth inning,” he said. “That’s about where I’m dying.”

If Patterson needs to be reassured he can still be effective even without his velocity, he needs only look at Moyer, who yesterday proved again he doesn’t have to have a powerful arm to win in the major leagues.

The savvy veteran kept throwing his sub-80 mph fastball over the outside corner of the plate, enticing Washington’s hitters to try to jerk it out of the park. For eight innings, none could do it, and there’s no feeling more frustrating than that.

“I wanted to turn around right-handed. I was getting [ticked],” said left fielder Ryan Church, who hit three groundballs off the lefty. “That’s Jamie Moyer. That’s what he does. He’s good. … I was trying to make adjustments, but it just wasn’t happening.”

Finally, in the ninth, the Nationals broke through. Zimmerman led off with a double to the left-center gap, and Young followed with an RBI double down the left-field line that knocked Moyer (2-1) out of the game.

And when Phillies closer Tom Gordon entered from the bullpen, plunked Austin Kearns and then allowed a single to Church, Washington had the bases loaded and the winning run at the plate in the form of pinch-hitter Robert Fick.

Fick, though, lofted a lazy fly ball to left, deep enough to score Young from third, but nothing more than that. Brian Schneider then hit a weak grounder to first, moving the runners up, and Chris Snelling was caught looking at an 0-2 curveball to end the game and put a damper on an otherwise positive homestand for the Nationals.

“I love the way we’re playing right now,” Acta said. “The guys, they’re giving all the effort they’re supposed to. I love it. They’re not giving up.”

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