Patterson's future with O's up in the air

The Baltimore Sun

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Corey Patterson's recent surge has helped energize the Orioles' offense. Has it also improved his chances of getting re-signed by the club?

Patterson will be a free agent after this season, and the Orioles still haven't made a decision on his long-term future, according to multiple team sources. But if the 27-year-old center fielder wants to return for a third season with the Orioles - and he says he definitely would like to explore it - he hasn't hurt his cause over the past month.

Patterson has 17 hits in his past 38 at-bats. He started the series Friday with a .258 average, the highest it has been since April 24. He has two hits or more in seven of his past nine games, and he has raised his average 45 points since June 5.

He also entered last night with six steals in 16 July games and stole two more bases in the first inning.

While the club would like its center fielder to be more consistent and disciplined at the plate, his defense may make it tough to ignore him after the season. New president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail values strong defense up the middle.

"What he brings to the table I think could be the direction that we go, and that's pitching and defense," interim manager Dave Trembley said. "Pitching and defense puts you in a position to compete and help you win games. What Corey Patterson does for us in the outfield helps our team. That's what you're looking for."

The free-agent center field market this offseason could include Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Eric Byrnes and Aaron Rowand. Each would represent a major offensive upgrade for the Orioles, but the competition and the price tag for the group will also be steep.

"Baltimore has given me a chance from the bad year I had in '05," Patterson said. "I like the guys here, but at the same time, I don't think about that. I want to go out and help the team win as many games as possible. Then at the end of the year, whatever is going to happen, I'll cross that bridge when I get there."

Tejada heads back home

Injured shortstop Miguel Tejada left the team and headed back to the East Coast, where he awaits X-rays Tuesday that will go a long way toward determining when he can return to the lineup. Trembley said Tejada is tentatively scheduled to take live batting practice Tuesday for the first time since fracturing his left wrist last month. But X-rays need to show his injury has healed significantly.

"Miggy's got this magic number in his head that he's going to play against the Yankees on Friday," Trembley said. "He's going to go out to play in the minor leagues somewhere, but Miggy's got in his head that he's going to play for the Baltimore Orioles on Friday. I don't know if that's going to happen or not."

Penn begins road back

Orioles prospect Hayden Penn, who made just one start for Triple-A Norfolk before he was shut down to have surgery to remove a bone chip in his right elbow, pitched one inning for the Orioles' Gulf Coast League team Friday, allowing three hits and two unearned runs.

"I think the plan is take it one start at a time for him and see how he rebounds after he pitches, but obviously he's going through the throwing program that was necessary in order to get him back in games," Trembley said.

Around the horn

Nikco Sports is producing a limited number of gold baseballs to recognize Hall of Famer-elect Cal Ripken Jr. and raise money for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, the nonprofit organization named after his late father. Only 5,000 baseballs will be produced, and each comes with a certificate of authenticity and display case. Fans can order by calling 800-345-2868 or by visiting www.nikcosports.com ... Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young visited the Orioles' clubhouse and took batting practice with the club. He's a friend of first baseman Kevin Millar. ... Erik Bedard has nine games of 10 or more strikeouts in his career, passing Steve Barber for most games with at least 10 strikeouts by an Orioles left-hander.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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