NEW YORK -- Nationals right-hander John Patterson threw 60 pitches in a bullpen session at Shea Stadium on Saturday, his second such effort after being shut down for the season with a right forearm strain.

Patterson was encouraged by the results, in which he focused on throwing fastballs and curveballs. Though he won't return to action this year, the late work provides him with optimism for 2007.

"I'm just looking at it as positively as I can," Patterson said. "It's unfortunate what happened, but at the same time, it's given me the time to work on some things."

Patterson was 1-2 with a 4.43 ERA in eight starts for the Nationals this year, serving two separate stints on the disabled list with the injury.

His season did have some shining moments -- notably, a 13-strikeout performance on April 15 at Florida and eight more punchouts on April 21 against Atlanta -- but clearly, it couldn't compare to his impressive 2005 campaign.

That year, Patterson went 9-7 with a 3.13 ERA in 31 starts. Patterson is confident that his offseason program -- he'll focus on long-tossing through October before throwing in the bullpen again in November -- will round him back into that form.

Hopefully, Patterson said, he'll report to Spring Training as the dominant pitcher that the Nationals believe he can be in 2007.

"I don't really think I have a whole lot to prove," Patterson said. "I just think I need to go out and do what I can do. I think my stuff is there. My confidence hasn't been shaken.

"There's nothing that's knocked me down. I still feel like I've got to go be me."

Soriano watch: Nationals left fielder Alfonso Soriano entered Saturday four stolen bases shy of reaching the 45-45 mark, and with nine games remaining on the schedule, such an accomplishment wouldn't be unheard of.

Robinson said that Soriano -- as he has all year -- continues to have a green light to run whenever he feels the need, but he didn't believe that being a 45-45 player would hold added appeal.

"He's not going to be out there just running for a record," Robinson said. "That's not his personality, that's not his approach."

Always on the run: Felipe Lopez stole his 40th base on Friday, swiping second base in the third inning and scoring on a Ryan Zimmerman single.

With Lopez and Soriano near the top of the order, plus strong runners Bernie Castro and Nook Logan further down, Robinson said he's pleased with a speed-first approach the Nationals are currently employing.

The setup, Robinson said, is reminiscent of the recent Florida Marlins' foundations which centered around Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo, but also featured solid base stealers like Juan Encarnacion and Derrek Lee. Hitting slumps come and go, but speed represents a consistent weapon.

"That just creates a larger problem for the pitchers, the defense, the manager in the dugout," Robinson said. "It's a different ball game, but you're not going to do it on speed alone."

Coming around: Endy Chavez, who played for three years with the Montreal Expos and seven games with the Nationals last year, has found his stride in New York.

In the midst of a career year, the 28-year-old Chavez is batting .317 with three homers and 40 RBIs in part-time duty for the Mets, fulfilling most everything the Expos-Nationals had hoped he would do in their uniform.

"It happens in this game," Robinson said. "You say, 'Maybe he'll get it somewhere else.' We couldn't get him to do that stuff to have success here, what he's doing now. I'm happy for him."

With the Mets, Robinson said Chavez has done away with a leg kick at the plate and has emphasized hitting the ball the other way, among other changes.

Under the weather: Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire remained behind at the team's Manhattan hotel with the flu.

Robinson said he would assume the responsibility of visiting the mound for starter Michael O'Connor and any relievers, though he laughed at what a pitcher's reaction might be to seeing him early in the game.

"They'll think they're out of the game," Robinson said. "The day is over. Maybe go see a matinee [movie]."

Coming up: The Nationals play the third game of their four-game set in New York on Sunday, taking on the NL East champions in a 1:10 p.m. ET matinee. Tony Armas Jr. (8-12, 5.22 ERA) gets the call for the Nats, and he'll be opposed by veteran Steve Trachsel (15-7, 4.96).