SARASOTA, Fla. -- Freshly arrived at Reds camp Tuesday afternoon, new outfield acquisition Corey Patterson knew exactly what, or who, was behind his signing. After all, Patterson and Dusty Baker have a Cubs connection that has never severed. The two have remained in contact by phone the past few years. Baker has lobbied publicly for Cincinnati to sign a lefty-hitting leadoff hitter like Patterson or Kenny Lofton. "I think he had a big part in helping me get here," said Patterson, who signed a Minor League contract Monday with a big league camp invite.
Once up to speed, Patterson will jump into the scrum for the center-field job with Ryan Freel, Norris Hopper and top prospect Jay Bruce. One of the more interesting subplots in Reds camp just got a little juicier. "No. 1, we're short of bodies," Baker said, referring to injuries to Bruce, Jerry Gil and others. "And No. 2, competition is healthy. We're trying to improve ourselves for now and in the future, possibly. We're trying to win this thing, and go north with the best people we think possible at this time." Patterson played for the Cubs from 2000-05, including three years under Baker, but spent the past two seasons with the Orioles. The 28-year-old was one of several free agents that were unemployed with Spring Training ongoing. The list still includes pitchers Kyle Lohse and Jeff Weaver, who like Patterson, are clients of agent Scott Boras. While he waited for a team to call, Patterson remained in his hometown of Atlanta and worked out on his own. He said he began hitting on Jan. 1 and has maintained a running and weightlifting regimen. The only thing he hasn't done is face pitchers. "I didn't worry at all," Patterson said of being without a team with camps underway. "It was definitely an interesting off-season for myself, and I think a lot of other guys too. I've done everything else I can do at home in Atlanta. Now it's a matter of getting on the field and running the bases. I've done that, but it's still different when you're among the players, playing games." In 132 games with the Orioles last season, Patterson batted .269 with eight home runs, 45 RBIs and a .304 on-base percentage. He batted .235 in the first half, but batted .313 after the All-Star break. "I think I stayed more consistent with my approach," Patterson said. "That's something players battle every year. I got to the point where I said no matter what result I get, I'll go in and do the same thing every day. That's what you have to do. When you start changing stuff or work on different things every day, it makes things for complicated and then you become lost." Patterson has a lifetime .298 on-base percentage, which would need to improve to help the Reds from the leadoff spot. However, his speed helped him net 37 steals last season and 45 in 2006.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.