Notes: Church enters key season

Notes: Nats hope Church can seize opportunity

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals manager Manny Acta called Ryan Church this offseason and told him that the left-field job was his to lose, and Church is determined to prove to his new skipper that he made the right decision.

It was an up-and-down season for Church in 2006. Once projected by general manager Jim Bowden as another Jim Edmonds, Church had two stints in the Minor Leagues for slumping at the wrong time. He acknowledged on Tuesday that he sometimes was not mentally prepared, but he said 2007 will be a different story.

"I glad I went through 2006," Church said. "Mentally I'm stronger. I know what I need to do on the field. Don't take these little mental days off. Get out there and play every day and work on things. I have a different attitude, even in the gym, out here running. Just get it done. It's just going to make it that much better. I don't want to give them any doubt."

Although Church finished the season strong, hitting .305 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in his last 48 games, the Nationals feel that he needed to work on breaking balls. Church believes he has conquered the problem by going to a visualization program in Phoenix. It was put together by Dr. Bill Harrison.

"It has helped me pick the ball up," Church said. "It slows the game down. That's the biggest thing for me. There were times I would get in there and I wanted to hurry up and hit -- not being mentally ready. This program is helping out big time."

Church clears things up: Church said he did not decline to go to the Mexican League this winter. He said the Mexican team that he was supposed to play for decided to go with another outfielder. Church believes that the Nationals didn't understand the situation at first, but Church and his agent, Jeff Boris, explained the situation and cleared the air.

The verdict is in: The Nationals won their arbitration case against right-hander John Patterson on Tuesday. Patterson will receive $850,000 instead of the $1.85 million he was seeking.

Patterson and Bowden were not available for comment. According to a baseball source, the Nationals tried to negotiate with the Patterson camp before both parties went to arbitration on Monday. But the Patterson camp didn't come up with a counter offer and wouldn't budge from the $1.85 million. But Patterson's agent, Casey Close, said the information is not true. He said the Nationals never came up with an offer and had no choice but to go to arbitration.

Patterson, who is expected to be the ace of the starting staff, pitched in only eight games in 2006 because of a forearm injury. Patterson made $450,000 last season.

Now we have an answer: During the second half of last season, Bowden approached right-hander Jon Rauch about going back into the rotation, but Rauch declined, feeling that he would continue to stay healthy out of the bullpen. Last season, Rauch was the Nationals' setup man and had a respectable 3.35 ERA in 85 games. As a starter, Rauch has gone on the DL a few times.

"The question regarding me starting is the simple fact of durability," Rauch said. "In the past as a starter, I always seemed to have arm problems. My first full season, being a reliever, I was able to go out there when they called on me. That definitely is an attribute for me to help the team. The general consensus was keep me in a role where I'm comfortable in, keep me in a role I can go out there and help the team."

In case you are wondering: All of the Nationals' pitchers and catchers reported to Viera, Fla., except for Juan Brito, Jesus Colome, Anastacio Martinez, Luis Martinez, Arnie Munoz, Felix Diaz and Edward Valdez, all of whom are having visa problems.

Be a part of the mailbag: The Nationals mailbag returns on Monday. Send in your questions now.

Did you know? Nationals pitchers allowed a National League-leading 93 intentional walks in 2006.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.