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Posted at 05:55 PM ET, 03/02/2012

Matt Purke, Rafael Martin show they’re healthy — and good — in the Nationals' spring opener


(Jonathan Newton)
After Matt Purke pitched two innings today, he hopped down the dugout steps, figuring his day was done. Nationals coaches had told Purke he would pitch two frames in an exhibition against Georgetown. Purke, though, had been so efficient with his pitches that they sent him back out for a third.

And so Purke, the lefty the Nationals drafted in the third round last year and signed to a major league deal, pitched his longest outing since May, when he was a junior at TCU. He allowed one hit, no walks and no runs in his three-inning start, striking out three.

Purke’s fastball hovered around 91 miles per hour, according to one Nationals official, an encouraging sign. Shoulder bursitis robbed him of the majority of his final college season, and in the Arizona Fall League he pitched mainly one-inning relief stints. Even against inferior competition, Purke put to bed many concerns about his shoulder today.

“This was the first time I’ve been able to do it successfully inning after inning,” Purke said.

Once Purke left, reliever Rafael Martin cleaned house for two innings. Again, his performance came against the Hoyas, but Martin was impressive. He threw vicious sliders and a wicked two-seam fastball that moved so much, he said, he had to aim down the middle of the plate in order for it to hit the corner.

At this time last spring, Martin had a dead arm. The Nationals signed Martin in 2010 after an improbable career path. He did not play professional baseball for four years after high school, before he randomly tried out for the Mexican League. He made the cut at the tryout, then wowed scouts with the darting movement of his pitches.

Martin had a full season in 2010, then took the winter mostly off. His arm had experienced that kind of workload, and it took him time to rebuild arm strength. Martin remained in Viera for extended spring training until May, and did not feel back to normal until late June.

“I had never taken any time off,” Martin said. “I didn’t know what the right way of taking time off was. Now, I know I can’t stop throwing.”

This year, Martin pitched in the Arizona Fall League, then played in the Mexican League to stay fresh. “My arm is in good shape,” Martin said. “The Nationals know that.”

Last year, Martin eventually reached Class AA Harrisburg, where he struck out 44 in 35 2/3 innings while posting a 1.77 ERA. Martin has not been placed on the 40-man roster, but he could find his way to Washington this season.

“I feel that way,” Martin said. “I’ve got to open some eyes, let them know what I can do. Injuries are part of baseball. If somebody goes down, I’ve got to be ready, hopefully get the opportunity.”

By  |  05:55 PM ET, 03/02/2012

 
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