TUCSON - By trading John Patterson — who had been with the organization longer than any player — on Thursday, the Diamondbacks moved even closer to setting their pitching staff.
Arizona dealt Patterson to the Montreal Expos for situational left-hander Randy Choate, with the deal contingent on both players passing physicals.
The D-Backs — who declined further comment until the deal is official — have Randy Johnson, Brandon Webb and Elmer Dessens in the first three spots of their rotation. Despite a tough spring, Shane Reynolds seems likely to at least open the season as one of the starters.
So there are essentially two candidates for the fifth spot: knuckleballer Steve Sparks, who gave up four runs on nine hits in five innings in Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Tucson Electric Park, and rookie Casey Daigle.
If Sparks does not make the rotation, he can be used as a reliever.
Rookie Greg Aquino and lefty Jim Parque have not been pushed to lengthy outings this spring and thus are being considered more for the bullpen than the rotation.
The acquisition of Choate could hurt Parque’s chances. Matt Mantei, Jose Valverde, Oscar Villarreal, Mike Koplove and left-hander Stephen Randolph are pretty much set in the bullpen. Choate — who, like Patterson, is out of minorleague options — gives the team the left-handed specialist it did not have in camp.
Thus, if Daigle makes the team and Sparks is a reliever, the seven-man bullpen would seem to be complete. If Sparks is a starter, that leaves Parque, Aquino and Brandon Villafuerte for one spot. (Shane Nance, Brandon Lyon and Casey Fossum are expected to open the season on the disabled list.)
"We’ve got a lot of good pitchers to plug a few spots," manager Bob Brenly said. "As for how it all works out, I still can’t say. It’s a work in progress."
Choate, 28, spent his career in the New York Yankees organization before going to Montreal in December, along with first baseman Nick Johnson, for pitcher Javier Vazquez.
"It’s kind of shocking how quick it was," Choate told the Montreal Gazette. "Seven years with the Yankees, never got traded. Now twice in a few months."
In 82 big-league games, the sidearming Choate is 3-2 with a 4.43 ERA, holding lefthanded hitters to a .183 average and one homer in 142 atbats. He spent most of last year with Class AAA Columbus, going 3-5 with a 3.91 ERA.
"Hopefully it’ll be a good opportunity," Choate said. "The NL West has a lot of lefthanded hitters; it’s loaded up more than any division."
That list includes San Francisco’s Barry Bonds; Colorado’s Larry Walker and Todd Helton; Los Angeles’ Shawn Green; and San Diego’s Ryan Klesko and Brian Giles.
Patterson, 26, was drafted fifth overall by the Expos in 1996 but became a free agent on a technicality and signed with Arizona for $6.075 million.
"There’s 29 other teams and I end up with Montreal," he said. "It’s really kind of ironic."
He was a top prospect all along but got derailed by reconstructive elbow surgery in 2000. He has never recovered his velocity, throwing in the low 90 mph range instead of the mid-90s.
After a strong showing in September 2002, Patterson came into camp a year ago a favorite for the rotation. But he did not make the team, and in 16 games (eight starts) over three call-ups last season was 1-4 with a 6.05 ERA.
The emergence of Daigle this spring made Patterson (who has a 6.23 ERA in four exhibition starts) expendable. And with Vazquez gone and Tony Armas Jr. recovering from surgery, the Expos needed a starter.
"It was probably time to change scenery a little bit," Patterson said. "I’ve been here seven years and I think a change will be good for me. And it’s definitely going to be a plus to pitch every five days and know I’m going to get the ball. Just being somewhere new I think is going to give me a breath of fresh air."