Patterson to open season in center

Patterson to open season in center

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Non-roster invitee Corey Patterson will get the start in center field for Monday's Opening Day game in Cincinnati.

With Jolbert Cabrera reassigned to Minor League camp on Saturday and top prospect Jay Bruce sent to Triple-A Louisville last week, manager Dusty Baker confirmed after Saturday's game that Patterson will start.

A late-camp addition, Patterson signed a Minor League contract with the Reds on March 3. The 28-year-old has played eight seasons in the Majors and had a solid spring, batting .293.

Baker also said that outfielder Ryan Freel, who left Wednesday's game with the flu, will stay in Sarasota on Sunday to get a few more at-bats.

Freel, who has struggled with injuries, is out of options, and if Patterson continues to play well, the Reds could look into trading or releasing the outfielder.

Norris Hopper, who recently rejoined the team after a death in the family, will also stay behind on Sunday. Hopper started in Saturday's Grapefruit League finale and showed no signs of rust, going 2-for-2. Baker said that it was a precautionary move, and added that both players are expected to join the team in Cincinnati on Monday.

It remains unclear as to when pitcher Matt Belisle will rejoin the team. After the right-hander injured his right forearm throwing changeups, Baker said that Belisle's rehab tenure will be about "starting midway" and building back his endurance and pitch count. Belisle will throw in Minor League games on Monday, then again on April 5 and April 10, with nothing finalized beyond that.

Baker also declined to finalize who will be the Reds' first baseman on Opening Day.

At this point, veteran Scott Hatteberg figures to get the edge over prospect Joey Votto.

Hatteberg had his option picked up last season and is signed through 2008. Votto spent last season in Louisville before coming up to play 24 games with the Reds.

This spring, Hatteberg hit .386, in contrast to Votto's .206, a statistic too glaring for Baker to ignore.

"We're trying to give him [Votto] an opportunity to win the job ... but we still don't know. [We're] still in an earn-it, prove-it job," Baker said.

Hatteberg furthered his case on Saturday, going 3-for-3 with two RBIs off the bench in the Reds' Spring Training finale. Votto, who got the start, was 1-for-2.

Although Votto has slumped at the plate this spring, the 24-year-old does present significant advantages over Hatteberg, who is 38.

"Joey brings speed. He can throw; he draws walks; he can steal you a base," Baker said. "It's hard to say who's officially starting [at] first base."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.