Patterson Thrives in Opener

Second baseman Eric Patterson, the Cubs' 2005 Minor League Player of the Year, began the new season by picking up almost exactly where he left off.

Patterson collected three hits on Opening Night in the minors Thursday and drove in two runs with a triple and two singles in West Tenn's 6-3 win over Birmingham in Double-A action.

Both Patterson and leadoff hitter Chris Walker lit the spark at the top of the Diamond Jaxx order by going a combined 5-for-8 with three extra base hits between the 1-2 punch.

"It was awesome out there tonight," Patterson told Inside The Ivy after the game. "Any time you get out of the grind of Spring Training and away from playing against each other in games that really don't mean a lot aside from getting your work in, it's definitely exciting. I know everyone looked forward to getting out there tonight."

After a successful start to his professional career last year at Class-A Peoria, Patterson was promoted to Double-A late in the season for the beginning of the Southern League playoffs. He batted .333 in the post-season with nine hits, including four doubles.

In Thursday's season opener, Patterson drew a walk in his first plate appearance and then singled to right the next time up. After an infield hit in the sixth, he and Walker hit back-to-back triples in the eighth to break a 3-3 tie and help put the Jaxx ahead for good.

The bullpen combined for three perfect innings in relief with Jaxx pitchers setting down 12 consecutive hitters to end the game. Left-hander J.R. Mathes, who led Daytona's staff in wins a season ago with 11, yielded three runs and eight hits without a walk in his first career Double-A start.

Right-hander Rocky Cherry was sharp in his first game back from Tommy John Surgery. Cherry, who worked part-time at a nearby Home Depot while rehabbing his elbow in Arizona following the operation last May, pitched two innings and notched two strikeouts. Left-hander Clay Rapada pitched the ninth inning for a save.

"There were no jitters going into this game," Patterson said of the team's performance. "It was all very exciting. You're not going to come across many situations that you haven't dealt with before, so you just have to keep things in perspective; go out and understand your role; and play that role to the best of your ability."

For Patterson, that role will be as the team's everyday second baseman and no. 2 hitter behind the speedy Walker, who has stolen 60 bases in each of the last two seasons at Class-A.

Adding on to Patterson's success a year ago was his stint in the Arizona Fall League. He hit safely in all but three of his 18 starts with the Mesa Solar Sox and used the wide pool of talent the league offered as a way to prepare himself for Double-A and beyond.

"The Fall League was a great experience, especially with me getting to play with guys who were a little older than I was," said Patterson, who turns 23 Saturday. "The talent there was outstanding, and to get used to hitting off that type of pitching day in and day out, it gave me a head start as far as what to expect at higher levels. It was a huge benefit for me and I hope I can carry it well on into this season."

ELSEWHERE ON THE FARM … In Des Moines, Jae-Kuk Ryu looked sharp in his first Triple-A start, allowing one run over five innings while striking out four in Iowa's 8-4 loss to Albuquerque. Ryu had been impressive in big league camp this spring and was thought to be in the running for one of the club's final bullpen spots before being optioned to Iowa. Bouncing back from elbow soreness in 2004, he won 11 games last year as a starter at AA.

Right-hander Bobby Brownlie had hoped to get more time in the Iowa bullpen this season after struggling with a 5.71 ERA in his 14 starts at Triple-A last year.

Brownlie got his wish in the team's season opener, but the results were not to his liking. He allowed four runs in two-thirds of an inning in relief of Ryu and gave up five hits (all singles) and a walk en route to a loss.

"Having spoken with Larry Rothschild in Spring Training," Brownlie told Inside The Ivy, "he thinks the bullpen might be my best shot right now at getting to the big leagues. I pitch really well in the bullpen and really enjoy it."

Brownlie was 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA in 13 relief appearances with the Triple-A club last season.

A pair of 2005 standouts at Double-A, Ryan Theriot and Brandon Sing, collected two hits while top organizational prospect Felix Pie went hitless in four at-bats in his Triple-A debut.

In Daytona, rival Brevard County spoiled skipper Don Buford's managerial debut despite a three-hit performance from shortstop Joe Simokaitis in a 9-4 loss. Last year's 10th-round draft pick from Nebraska drove in two runs as one of only two Cub players to finish with multiple hits – joining third-year Daytona veteran Issmael Salas, who chipped in with two.

Leadoff hitter Sam Fuld homered in his Daytona debut, the sixth round tripper of his career, and Nic Jackson and Jemel Spearman – finally healthy – were in the starting lineup on Thursday. Neither recorded a hit as Jackson finished 0-for-4 in left field, while Spearman was 0-for-5 at third base.

Starter Justin Berg, whom the Cubs acquired from the New York Yankees for OF Matt Lawton last August, departed after four innings. He surrendered four runs and six hits while walking three. Right-hander Matt Weber allowed two runs in relief after spending most of the past two seasons with the organization as a starter in Peoria and Boise.

On the road in Wisconsin to open regular season play, former Cubs catcher Jody Davis's managerial debut was also spoiled despite his team out-hitting their opponents, 12-3.

Peoria fell, 4-2, with Ryan Norwood making his first start at first base since missing all of last season with an ankle injury. He connected with three hits and a double. Catcher Mark Reed also scored three hits, tying a career best in his first game back with Peoria since being demoted to extended spring training last year after a one-month stint with the team.

Left-hander Donald Veal's Peoria debut was cut short after 3 1/3 innings. The second-round pick from last year's draft walked six, a career-high in his short professional career, and gave up four runs on two hits. He was also charged with a throwing error on a pickoff attempt in his first inning on the hill. The Chiefs left 12 men on base and walked nine.

MINOR NEWS... Left-hander Russ Rohlicek, let go by the Cubs in Spring Training, signed with the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday. Rohlicek was 3-1 with a 4.33 ERA in 55 appearances at Triple-A a season ago. In 2004, he held opposing hitters to a .175 average against and was 5-5 with a 2.09 ERA.

E-mail Steve Holley: staff@insidetheivy.com.


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