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04/17/07 1:00 AM ET

Mailbag: Will Patterson regain form?

Beat reporter Bill Ladson answers Nationals fans' questions

The Nationals were 3-9 entering Monday's action, and fans want to know how they can get better during the season. Here are some answers to their questions.

What's the deal with right-hander John Patterson? I know it's early, but he barely reaches 90 miles per hour on his fastball.
-- Wayne M., Woodbridge, Va.

I think pitching coach Randy St. Claire said it best: Patterson needs to strengthen his arm, and it's going to take a while before he reaches the 90-95 miles per hour range. Remember, Patterson missed almost a year because of a forearm injury. Give it until June. I think Patterson will be fine.

When will Michael O'Connor and Jason Simontacchi come off the disabled list?
-- Devin O., Arlington, Va.

Simontacchi, who has a right groin injury, is expected to be back on the team by early May, while O'Connor, who has an elbow injury, most likely will not be back until June or sometime after the All-Star break.

With Ryan Church hitting the way he is, how long do you give it until general manager Jim Bowden trades him?
-- Dave F., Seaford, Del.

I will be very surprised if Bowden trades Church now. It looks like Church is finally reaching his potential. He is leading the Nationals in almost every offensive category and has improved his play in center field.

Two years ago, then-Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez had a fit and said he was done for the season. He wouldn't say why he was upset, but he said he would say why after the season. The day after his temper tantrum, he calmed down. I was wondering if he eventually said anything about it or what the reasons were that he almost quit on the team.
-- Conrad D., Montreal

Hernandez never said what the problem was, though did say the next day that his knee was hurting him and he though he needed knee surgery right away.

What is Alex Escobar's prognosis for returning to the Nationals?
-- Scot J., Washington

I don't think we'll see Escobar anytime soon because he is still recovering from the right shoulder injury. He is not doing his throwing program yet.

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Cal Ripken made the change from third base to shortstop successfully. Why not shift Ryan Zimmerman to short, insert Kory Casto at third and use an outfield of Church, Logan and Kearns?
-- C. Norman Willis, Keswick, Va.

I don't see the Nationals making that switch with Casto anytime soon. For that to happen, Casto needs to start hitting. As you can see, with Logan out, Chris Snelling is now getting the getting the playing time over Casto.

What will be the underlying philosophy behind the Nationals' First-Year Player Draft class this year -- high-ceiling high school prospects or more-ready-for-the-Majors college prospects?
-- Jonathan E., Washington

I think it will be a combination of both. The Nationals are not limited like they were in the past. I do believe they will focus a lot on pitching like they did last year.

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