Nationals Put Best Face on Their Inexperienced Arms

John Patterson
John Patterson will begin the season with an Opening Day assignment Monday against the Florida Marlins. (Joel Richardson - The Washington Post)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 29, 2007

VIERA, Fla., March 28 -- Here is what Manny Acta, the first-year manager of the Washington Nationals, had to say about his starting rotation just five days before the season opens: "It's encouraging."

Here, then, are the 2006 major league win totals of the five men who will make the first turn through the rotation: 1, 1, 0, 0 and 0. Of course, that doesn't take into account the fact that right-hander Jason Simontacchi will begin the season rehabilitating a groin injury and is expected to jump to the majors as soon as he's healthy. Simontacchi's major league win total since the end of 2003: 0.

So, some quick Nationals' math: 1 + 1 = 2.

Thus, spring training's most significant game of throw-some-bouncing- balls-in-a-tumbler- and-pull-out-five- winners came to a conclusion. The chosen ones: John Patterson, Shawn Hill, rookie Matt Chico, Jason Bergmann and Jerome Williams.

"I think we came out of it," Acta said, "a lot better than we thought we would."

That, perhaps, is a statement of where the Nationals -- in their deepest, darkest moments -- imagined they might be. There is no Web site, no sheet of paper or biographical summary, on which the club could find encouraging data on its top six starters. But dig deep enough, through the reams of generally meaningless statistics generated in the Grapefruit League, and there is a number that just might bring hope: 3.57, the cumulative ERA of those six starting pitchers this spring.

"I feel that I've got five guys that are throwing the ball pretty good," pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. "When we got here, we really had no idea if that would happen."

On Feb. 15, 36 healthy pitchers reported here. Of those, only Patterson -- he of eight 2006 starts that produced half of the rotation's win total from a year ago -- was assured of a spot. Patterson, who will begin the season with an Opening Day assignment Monday against the Florida Marlins, closed out his spring Wednesday with his best outing yet, 6 2/3 innings in which he allowed five hits and one earned run, throwing 91 pitches.

Despite a dizzy spell brought on by dehydration last weekend, Patterson's spring went as he planned, and he believes he is ready to take on a role he has never had: ace.

"I'm happy with it," Patterson said. "I really like the guys. They're fun to talk to. They're eager to learn. They're aggressive when they're on the field. They all understand that there's a lot they have to learn, which is good. They're not going into a situation kind of naive. They want to learn and want to do good.

"That's about all you can ask. Coming into spring needing four starters to getting the guys that we have is great."

Such was the uncertainty of this whole process that Bergmann, who has seven starts among his 44 major league appearances, didn't know for sure he was in the rotation until he coincidentally passed General Manager Jim Bowden in the hall Wednesday. "Congratulations on becoming our number four starter," Bowden said.

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