A Loss That Feels Good for Patterson

Pitcher John Patterson makes his first start in 63 days for the Nationals. He had been on the disabled list for two months with forearm tendinitis.
Pitcher John Patterson makes his first start in 63 days for the Nationals. He had been on the disabled list for two months with forearm tendinitis. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 24, 2006

BALTIMORE, June 23 -- John Patterson wants nothing out of order, neither his hair nor his pregame routine. Yet all that can get messed up when you haven't pitched in 63 days. The five-day cycle for a starting pitcher, the one that is Patterson's inner clock, was gone. His season, in effect, started over.

When Patterson arrived Friday at Camden Yards, the flip-flops went on his feet, the earphones from his iPod went in his head and the game face came across his mug, now marked by a goatee. But shoot, he hadn't started since April 21, back when the season was young and the weather was cool. Shouldn't he do something different, like look at more video of the Baltimore Orioles?

"There were," Patterson said, "still some spots that I didn't feel comfortable with."

Such is his nature that the Washington Nationals were completely satisfied with Patterson's six-inning, six-hit effort in Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Orioles, yet Patterson needed more analysis. The rhythm of the game, he said, threw him off, as if it were flying by, even as he allowed the Orioles no extra base hits, even as they managed to push across just two runs, only one of them earned. The organization, for its part, was more than happy.

"That's not the phrase to describe it," Manager Frank Robinson said. "I thought it was an excellent outing for him, period. Something we haven't been getting lately -- a well-pitched ballgame."

Imagine that. Patterson was activated prior to Friday's game after missing two months with forearm tendinitis, and the plodding recovery involved a series of fits and starts all dictated by the franchise's stated goal of protecting a pitcher they feel could be their ace.

But when an ace remains in the deck unplayed, the team must fill in, and the Nationals have had trouble doing that recently. Their lost week in Boston -- three straight losses to the Red Sox in which their starters gave up 18 earned runs in 11 combined innings -- left them screaming for . . . well, for something like Patterson provided.

His fastball hovered in the low 90s, as he planned. His breaking pitches came and went, as was to be expected. The two runs scored on two singles, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly in the third and an error, stolen base and two-out RBI single from Corey Patterson in the sixth. He threw 82 pitches and started 14 of the 25 men he faced with a strike.

"I was in some situations tonight that I had to battle and I had to compete to get out of," Patterson said. "And getting out of some of those jams was a lot of fun. I had a good time out on the mound."

In the fourth, with the Nationals trailing 1-0, Patterson got Kevin Millar to pop softly to shortstop with a man on base. When the ball settled into the glove of Royce Clayton, Patterson pumped his fist three times, then pounded it onto his glove, the one with the flag of his home state of Texas stitched into it.

"We hadn't really done much at the plate right there," Patterson said. "I was trying to fire the guys up."

The guys, though, provided next to nothing.

"It's too bad we couldn't do anything for him," right fielder Jose Guillen said.

"Every fifth day, your team should be better," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "This is one of our top young pitchers in our whole system. He's one of the few guys who has the potential to be a [number] 1 or [number] 2."

To do that, he must pitch. To pitch, he must be healthy. That process finally started again Friday.

"Everything that I threw up there tonight felt good and with a purpose," he said. "I was healthy."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company