Patterson Understands the Situation

During his second short major league stint this season, Cubs rookie Eric Patterson played in two games and had traveled with the team for a three-game road trip to Toronto. But during the next series at Tampa Bay, he had his roster spot taken by oft-teammate Matt Murton.

"A lot of guys get in a situation where they're going up and down and back and forth, and it's definitely frustrating," Patterson said last week at Des Moines' Principal Park, prior to being recalled by the Cubs for the third time this season. "You definitely get frustrated with it. But you can take two approaches: you can come here and mope and get ticked off … or you can just take it as a challenge to continue to do what you need to do and get better every day, and force yourself back up there.

"And that's the mindset I [have taken] through this whole thing … The games and all that stuff, the numbers, that'll take care of itself," Patterson added.

Later that Thursday night, Patterson went 2-for-4 and hit his sixth home run in 49 games with Class AAA Iowa. He was called up the next day and likely earned extended playing time with his performance during the Cubs' three-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox at Wrigley Field this past week.

Making a start in left field during the second game of the series, Patterson had a coming-out party of sorts, finishing 3-for-5 with a double, an RBI single and a stolen base. He then finished 2-for-3 in Sunday's game with three runs scored, two RBIs, his first two major leagues walks and his first career major league home run.

It was during Sunday's national primetime telecast on ESPN that Patterson showcased the range of his abilities. A strong low-ball hitter, Patterson turned on a low, inside changeup for his first home run.

He also brought speed to a roster devoid of a true base-stealing threat. In the third inning, Patterson was caught stealing only because of a perfect throw by White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. In the seventh, he came within a step of beating out a slow groundball.

Iowa hitting coach Von Joshua said that Patterson is routinely timed running the 90 feet from home plate to first base in 3.9-4.0 seconds, which places him among the fastest runners in the game.

"A lot of times, he could be a little quicker, but he has a big swing," Joshua said.

An injury to All-Star outfielder Alfonso Soriano has allowed Patterson to platoon in left field against right-handed pitching. A second baseman throughout his minor league career, Patterson played 40 games in the outfield with Iowa last season to increase his versatility.

Patterson hasn't played in more than five games in any of his four prior major league call-ups to date, including a two-game stint last September that ended with him being demoted from Chicago – to Double-A. He showed up late before a Sept. 3 game against the Dodgers, which Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry didn't think was something to be looked upon lightly after being called up during a pennant chase.

Patterson tried to rectify the situation by showing up a week early to camp this spring. He met with Hendry, manager Lou Piniella and Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita to apologize and "put that all behind me," he said.

According to a Chicago Tribune report, the Cubs had sought a left-handed bat and speed in the off-season, and Patterson's performance in the Cactus League had scouts buzzing. He was 14-for-47 (.298) with seven strikeouts and four walks over 20 games in spring training.

"It definitely felt like I held my own," Patterson said. "It's good to get out there, especially in Spring Training and make a good impression on the coaches out there. Lou even said, ‘A lot of the young guys, just because you don't make the team out of Spring Training doesn't mean we don't like you or anything like that. Showcase what you can do in case there is an injury or something.'"

Patterson has a .323 average in 189 at-bats this season in Triple-A. He has struck out 45 times in those at-bats, which Patterson said is the only area of his performance he hasn't been happy with.

"I just try to be consistent day in and day out. Especially in this game, you're going to have your ups and downs." Patterson said. "You've just got to stay on an even keel… It's just about coming here and working, and understanding that your opportunity is going to come, your time is going to come and when it does, you've just got to make the most out of it."

His split statistics against left- and right-handed pitchers at Iowa weren't dramatic (.295 average against lefties, .331 against righties), but Patterson hasn't yet been asked to hit a left-handed pitcher in any of his big league appearances this season.

In Tuesday's 7-5 loss to Baltimore at Wrigley Field, the bases were loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with Patterson up next in the order. But Piniella opted to pinch-hit Patterson for Henry Blanco (then 7-for-21 against left-handers), who was subbed in to face Orioles left-hander George Sherrill.

After being sent down following the Toronto series, Patterson said that team personnel wanted him to get time in at both second base and the outfield but hadn't told him to improve on anything specific.

"Really, I mean, I just need to go out and play," he said. "They're really not big on doing anything specifically. You know, just go out and play, get experience through that … but they've been real positive."

At the request of Piniella, Patterson has implemented a small front-leg lift into his swing. He also has closed a previously open stance by squaring off to bring his feet parallel, which he said eliminates movement and has made him more consistent in getting his front foot down in time.

After the adjustment, Joshua said Patterson doesn't need as much time to make his move to the ball. He said Patterson has recently seen the benefits of the change, adding that Patterson's stance is a little unorthodox in his approach at the plate, including the way the way he keeps his back elbow high.

"He's a little unorthodox, the way he stands up there, but he's been able to make it work for him. I guess that old adage, ‘if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' [applies]" Joshua said. "I've talked with Eric. There are some adjustments that the big club wants him to make and I think he may have to make some adjustments to be successful in the major leagues, but who am I to say. There have been a lot of unorthodox guys in the major leagues that have been successful hitters."

Patterson, 25, is the younger brother of OF Corey Patterson, who was an expected star but a major league disappointment after the Cubs drafted him out of high school third overall in 1998.

After spending three years at Georgia Tech, Eric Patterson was drafted by the Cubs in the eighth round of the 2004 draft. Joshua sees at least one physical comparison between the brothers.

"The thing that makes (Eric) so special is that for a little skinny guy [5-foot-11, 170 pounds], he's very strong," said Joshua. "He's very strong like his brother. You look at them and you don't think that they're that strong, but he's a strong kid."

Patterson described himself as "a pretty low-key guy" and said he hasn't put pressure on himself during his limited major league experiences.

"Obviously, they're in first place and they're chasing a pennant, and the formula they've got up there is working," Patterson said of the situation in Chicago. "So it's hard for a young guy to come in there and break in and try to force his way in there. So you understand that. You understand the situation when you go up, and you don't put too much pressure on yourself."


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