Last offseason, the Nationals signed Patterson to a non-guaranteed contract worth $850,000. They were hoping that he would be the power pitcher that he was in 2005, but it never materialized during Spring Training.
Patterson, 29, was 0-2 with a 7.00 ERA in nine innings and opposing hitters had a .317 batting average against him. It didn't help that Patterson's fastball was clocked in the low to mid-80s. General manager Jim Bowden had said for weeks that he was looking for Patterson to have his fastball around 90 mph.
"Obviously, we thought we could get him back to where he was three years ago, and it never happened," Bowden said. "We evaluated him and believed that he had better stuff last year, when he went north [from Florida to Washington]. We felt we should give the ball to the young starting pitchers that we have and continue to develop them. It's the best interest in the long-term development to this club."
Patterson, who expressed no bitterness toward the Nationals, believed the end came last Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he allowed six runs over four innings in an 11-3 loss to the Orioles. Patterson said it didn't help that principal owner Mark Lerner was in attendance.
"I didn't progress as fast as they wanted me to progress," said Patterson, who was Washington's Opening Day starter last season. "After what I've been though the last two years, I think it was a risk they were not willing to take.
"I don't think Mr. Lerner seeing me pitch against Baltimore helped the situation at all. That was not brought up at the meeting. I don't think that helped. I pitched pretty good in two starts, but he didn't see those. He saw the worst start I had. He never saw me pitch healthy. I would probably say that had something to do with it."
But Bowden said the decision to release Patterson was an organizational one. In fact, Bowden said the vote was unanimous. It was based on how Patterson looked the entire spring.
"We got him finally healthy," Bowden said. "We got him where he was never on an injury list. But he never got the stuff back, unfortunately."
Patterson has been in the organization since 2004, when it was known as the Expos. His best season was in 2005, when he went 9-7 with a 3.13 ERA in 31 starts. But the last two seasons, Patterson pitched in a combined 15 games because of nerve damage in his right forearm.
The Nationals have offered Patterson to comeback as a Minor Leaguer.
"Our door is open," Bowden said. "If he decides that he wants to comeback in the Minor Leagues and try to rebuild from there, I will leave the door open for him."
Both Shawn Hill and Chad Cordero have played with Patterson since '04 and they were in shock. Hill found out the news through right-hander Tim Redding during a telephone conversation. Hill thought Redding was joking with him.
"I didn't expect it," Hill said. "I understand the business part of it. Some people might have seen it coming, but I don't think many people in the clubhouse expect to hear this at all, let alone this early."
Cordero was watching Patterson pack his clothes in a box and was informed by Patterson that he was no longer on the team.
"I couldn't believe it," said Cordero. "It's a tough game. It's pretty sad. He has been a big part of this organization. Losing him is a shock to everybody."
Patterson's departure leaves a spot open in the rotation. Neither Bowden nor manager Manny Acta would reveal who would replace Patterson, who was told that the team would give a young pitcher a chance. The only thing Acta would guarantee is that right-handers Tim Redding and Jason Bergmann are in the rotation.
Chico and Lannan are the leading candidates to replace Patterson. Chico was the workhorse of the staff last year and he has added a high leg kick, which has added more velocity to his fastball.
Lannan, who was the organization's Minor League Player of the Year, has big league experience and pitches like he is older than his 23 years. This spring, he has given up three runs in 8 2/3 innings.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less