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Patterson reunites with Baker on Reds

Patterson reunites with Baker on Reds

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.

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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.

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"The main thing is he's still young," Baker said. "To me, he hasn't really even scratched the surface of what he can do. He's one of the fastest runners in the league. He plays a great center field."

In Baker, Patterson will have a familiar set of eyes watching him and knowing what he can do. He was a former third overall Draft pick by the Cubs in 1998 but was unable to meet the high expectations set for him in Chicago.

"He's kind of the epitome what happens when the hype and the media and everybody starts clamoring 'where's so-and-so?'" Baker said. "Jay Bruce is kind of where he used to be. In Chicago, it was 'we want Corey, we want Corey, bring the kid up.' He came up and did real good, then he kind of fell a little bit and then the next thing you know they wanted to run him out of town and get someone else in there."

Speaking of Bruce, Baker was asked if Patterson's arrival spelled doom for the prospect's challenge to make the Major League club.

"Not at all," Baker said. "Bruce is a tremendous talent. This guy is going to be a star for a long time. You don't know if the time is right now or not. If I didn't think he had a chance to make this club, I sure wouldn't have been playing him as much.

"I leave my mind open for anything. But we also have to figure out what's best for the club now and what's best for him too. I'm not just talking out of some book. It has nothing to do with age. Some of it has to do with experience and at-bats. He's come on a fast course, real quick. How many kids go 'A' ball, Double-A, Triple-A in one year, bam?"

Bruce is one of several Reds prospects poised to reach the Majors in short time. However, the Reds have added several veterans just before and during camp including pitcher Josh Fogg, catcher and former Cubs Paul Bako and Jerry Hairston Jr., who also signed a Minor League deal on Monday. Baker has a history of preferring veterans, despite contradicting comments.

It has begged the question, what kind of direction do the Reds want and where are they headed? Are they going to go the veteran route or have a makeup that includes younger players?

"We want a winning makeup," general manager Wayne Krivsky responded. "Young, medium, old, it doesn't matter. We'll do what we can to evaluate everyone this spring and decide who the best 25 are to go north."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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