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Nationals to Start the Season With a Better Feel for Pitching

"I'm fighting for a spot," says Matt Chico, taking nothing for granted after winning seven games as a rookie in 2007. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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"A healthy John Patterson, if you look back at 2005, is a potential number one or number two guy," Acta said. "But it's been three years now. First, we have to see if he's healthy."

Patterson intends to display his health immediately. Since having surgery to relieve pressure on the radial nerve in his right arm in September, he has progressed according to plan, he said. Last week, at home in Texas, he threw 100 pitches in a workout session -- fastballs, curveballs and sliders.

"I feel like I'm healthy," Patterson said by phone, before revising the statement. "No, I don't feel like it. I know I'm healthy.

Hill, 26, said he is 100 percent cleared to participate in drills following two minor surgeries in October.

"If he can make 30 starts, he'd win a Cy Young," Chico said. "He's got that kind of potential."

This about a guy who has made 25 starts in his major league career. But Hill's baffling sinker -- which opponents have, unsolicited, compared to that of Arizona's Brandon Webb -- makes him seem rife with potential. In going 4-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 16 starts last year, he gave up more than three earned runs just twice.

The Nationals believe even the unfamiliar commodities -- such as Clippard, acquired in an offseason trade with the New York Yankees -- have more promise than the group of unknowns last year. Thus, to this point they haven't aggressively pursued the remaining free agents on the market, a group that includes Liv¿n Hern¿ndez, their Opening Day starter in 2005 and '06.

"We want to see how these young players develop," General Manager Jim Bowden said.

How they do will determine not only much about 2008, but some aspects of 2009 -- and beyond.

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