Patterson, Cordero Give Nats a Glimmer of Hope

"The next few months will be better," outfielder Austin Kearns, right, said of the Nationals, hitting a major league-worst .174 with runners in scoring position. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 1, 2007

SAN DIEGO, April 30 -- Hours before his Washington Nationals began a 10-day, nine-game road trip, Manager Manny Acta could tick off his club's deficiencies in a therapeutic monotone. "First in walks. First in errors. Last in runs scored. First in runs allowed."

Yet in almost the same breath, he had a succinct message.

"It's going to get better," Acta said, "because these guys are better than that."

Monday night, they still had their flaws. But the main guy who needs to be better -- would-be No. 1 starter John Patterson -- was just that, picking up his first win of the year by beating San Diego ace Jake Peavy, 3-2, a victory nailed down by struggling closer Chad Cordero.

If there are two players Acta needs to be better to improve the National League's worst record, they are likely Patterson and Cordero. The latter, who had blown three of six save opportunities this season and had never saved a game against the Padres, worked a perfect ninth, though the final out was a warning track fly ball from Oscar Robles.

Still, it was 1-2-3.

"Better than 1-2-3-4-5-6," Cordero joked.

There is little doubt Patterson is better than the pitcher who appeared in his first four starts, when he never pitched more than 5 1/3 innings and posted a 7.71 ERA. Patterson has been adamant that he has to force himself to be patient as he overcomes the aftereffects of elbow surgery last July. He hadn't won a game since April 15, 2006.

Monday night, then, was a significant step. With his fourth pitch, Patterson hit 92 mph. Such a number wouldn't mean much in the middle of the season, but much of Patterson's April was spent discussing the velocity on his fastball, how it related to the bite on his breaking pitches, and how he needed to build arm strength to get it all back. That remained the same, even after Monday.

"I'm not where I want to be," Patterson said. "I'm still focused on that."

In the third, Patterson allowed a two-out, solo homer to Terrmel Sledge -- the outfielder who, just more than two years ago, hit the first home run in Nationals' history. But that was the only scratch Patterson allowed. He got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the sixth, pumping his fist when Khalil Greene hit into a fielder's choice to end it.

"It was better today," Patterson said. "I've been working tremendously hard on my mechanics. I'm just trying to generate some power with my legs, let my arm work, and just take some of the stress off of it. Early in the game, I definitely saw a difference in the life on my fastball and the velocity was a little bit better, which carried over into my breaking balls."


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