WASHINGTON -- Nationals pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Feb. 13, and right-hander John Patterson said on Sunday night his right forearm is 100 percent and he is ready for the 2007 season. That's great news for a team that may have problems finding quality starters in March.
"My arm feels great," said Patterson, who will turn 29 this week. "I've haven't had any issues with my arm at all. It's really exciting to know that I got it behind me. The strength in my arm feels great. It's like it's never happened."
The 2006 season was a lost one for Patterson. He was expected to, at least, repeat the breakout performance he had in 2005. That year, he had a 3.13 ERA and struck out 185 batters in 198 innings. But Patterson pitched in only eight games in '06 because of a pinched nerve in his forearm. He tried to pitch through the pain during the first half of the season, but he eventually had surgery on July 20. Patterson missed the remainder of the season.
Since going under the knife, Patterson has worked hard. Starting in October, he went through extensive weight training in order to regain strength in his forearm. He started throwing on flat ground and pitching on the mound soon thereafter. Patterson already is throwing breaking balls.
"Everything is feeling good," Patterson said. "I'm just trying to get ready for Spring Training. Once you get to Spring Training, you don't have much time to take a couple of days off. It's pretty busy. I'm going to try to be as competitive as I can."
When he arrives at Space Coast Stadium, Patterson will be the ace of the staff. That role had belonged to Livan Hernandez since the 2003 season, but Hernandez was traded to the Diamondbacks last August. Patterson knows that innings and victories are not the only things manager Manny Acta wants from him. The skipper wants Patterson to mentor a staff that is expected to be young and inexperienced. Patterson plans to pass on the lessons he learned from former Diamondbacks teammates Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.
"I understand that a lot is being put on my shoulders, and I accept those challenges. I have to set the pace for the pitching staff this year," Patterson said. "I'm going to try to help the younger pitchers who will most likely be on our staff. I want to put a good season together so we can be competitive."
There will be at least 11 pitchers competing for the final four spots in the rotation, some of them include youngsters such as Garrett Mock, Shawn Hill and Beltran Perez. What advice would Patterson give to those pitchers?
"I think it's one step at a time," Patterson said. "It can be a bit overwhelming during your first full year in the big leagues. I think you have to take it one game at a time and one pitch at a time and try not to get overwhelmed with the situation."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.