While starting the first regular-season game in Nationals Park would be a unique distinction, it would not be Patterson's first Opening Day assignment. He pitched the Nats' 2007 opener -- and a month later was back on the injury treadmill that has ruined his last two seasons.Among forearm and elbow surgeries, tendinitis, inflammation and some exotic Canadian treatments, Patterson has managed only 15 starts, two wins and 72 innings the last two seasons. Tuesday offered another indication that his time may be coming around again. "I felt good -- stronger than the last time. I made all my pitches, and I was able to throw them for strikes," Patterson said. "I was also more comfortable with my cutter; that's a pitch I hadn't thrown well before." The Nationals still profess patience for a guy who had been consistently near-dominant in 2005. Despite posting only nine wins that season, Patterson logged nearly 200 innings with a sharp 3.13 ERA in his 31 starts. "It may be May or June before he's back to what he was before," Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. "Now it's just more important to see that good arm action. That tells you where he is at. "It takes time to build up the arm strength." Patterson's agenda calls for him to step up to 70-75 pitches his next time out. Right now, that's a more important number than any radar reading. "If I was obsessing about the speed, I'd be out there trying to throw the ball through a wall," he said. "But I'm just pitching with what I've got, until the arm strength comes."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.