KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros have spoken with the agent for right-hander John Patterson and expressed interest in possibly signing the newly-released pitcher to a Minor League contract.

Patterson, who was unconditionally released by the Nationals on Thursday, must first clear waivers by the end of the day on Saturday. If he is not claimed, he will become a free agent and can sign with any team he chooses. Patterson can also refuse a claim if a team does pick him up off waivers.

General manager Ed Wade confirmed the Astros have been in contact with Patterson's representative, Alan Hendricks.

"[Assistant GM] David [Gottfried] talked to him [Friday] morning and told him if he indeed clears waivers, then we would have interest in talking about doing something with a Triple-A deal," Wade said.

"If he clears waivers, John and I will talk about what we do next," Hendricks said. "Anyone can claim him. If someone claims him, we'll probably accept that claim."

The 30-year-old Patterson was released by the Nationals on Friday after putting together an 0-2 record and a 7.00 ERA over nine innings this spring. Once considered the prize of the pitching staff, Patterson's productivity dipped in the last two seasons because of nerve damage in his right forearm. He had surgery last September to decompress the radial nerve in that arm.

By releasing Patterson when they did, the Nationals must pay only a quarter of his $850,000 salary, or $212,500.

The general sentiment around the league is that Patterson is far from being considered damaged goods and could possibly still be effective if given more time to rebuild arm strength. The Nationals decided they'd rather stick with their younger, healthier pitchers rather than wait for Patterson to attempt a comeback, and because he was out of options, they could not send him to the Minor Leagues. Nationals general manager Jim Bowden reportedly has offered to bring Patterson back as a Minor Leaguer.

The Astros, on the other hand, seemingly have holes in their rotation. Roy Oswalt, Brandon Backe, Wandy Rodriguez and Shawn Chacon have the first four spots locked up, but the final spot is still up for grabs. Woody Williams, Jack Cassel and Chris Sampson are currently auditioning for the position.

If the Astros were to sign Patterson, he would likely join the Triple-A Round Rock club to continue his rehab regimen.

"Some of our guys have talked to some of the Nationals people, and they felt from their standpoint, he was still in a rehab setting for them and it just didn't make sense for them to carry on," Wade said. "If he clears [waivers], we'll see what goes on from there."

Patterson has a career record of 18-25 with a 4.32 ERA over 88 games (78 starts), spanning six Major League seasons. The Orange, Texas, native was the undisputed ace of the Nationals' staff in 2005, when he went 9-7 with a 3.13 ERA over 31 starts.