Martis Makes Compelling Case
Scoreless Innings Seem to Lock Up A Rotation Spot

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 24 -- This wasn't just a nice little spring training outing, a couple of innings against some scrubs in the sun. Washington Nationals starter Shairon Martis took the mound Tuesday against a strong lineup, with his immediate future on the line.

And he threw six scoreless innings.

In the Nationals' 3-1 spring training victory over the Baltimore Orioles, Martis allowed just three hits, struck out four, walked one and did everything a 21-year-old with five major league appearances can do to all but clinch a spot in the Nationals' starting rotation.

"He really helped his chances," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said, declining to offer a final decision on his fourth and fifth starting pitchers. "All spring he's done it."

Martis, a right-hander who began the spring competing for a place in the bullpen, has a 1.42 ERA in six appearances. In 22 innings, he has allowed only 3 runs, 12 hits and 5 walks. He has struck out 13 heading toward his final scheduled spring start.

"Today was a really good day for me," Martis said. "I'm doing my job. The decision is for them."

Martis got in trouble briefly in the fourth against the Orioles' top of the order, and the way he got out of the mess by retiring the Orioles' No. 4 and 6 hitters (Aubrey Huff and Matt Wieters) showed Acta something about Martis's cool.

"That tells you a guy like him is not going to be rattled too often up here because of his age," Acta said. "I like the fact it was the heart of the order."

Martis showed great command from the start, allowing just an infield single in the first three innings. In the fourth, he hit leadoff man Ryan Freel in the hand, but then struck out Adam Jones. He allowed a single to left to Nick Markakis, but got Huff to ground out to first base. After walking Ty Wigginton to load the bases, Martis got Wieters out on a high fly to center field.

Martis watched Corey Patterson gather in the inning's final out, then punched his glove in satisfaction.

"We don't want to be in that situation," catcher Wil Nieves said. "But if we're in that situation, he showed he can handle it. That's something that's real important."

Officially, Martis is battling for the fourth or fifth spot with Collin Balester and Jordan Zimmermann, but in reality he seems to be honing in on the fourth position. Balester, who has given up 13 runs in 20 innings this spring, seems likely to land at Class AAA Syracuse. Zimmermann, who has given up five runs in 13 innings, has impressed Acta, but since he is not on the team's 40-man roster and Washington won't need its fifth starter until April 19, he seems the probable candidate for that last starting slot.

(Acta said the team's fifth starter will open the season at Syracuse, and the Nationals surely would save a 40-man roster move as long as possible.)

Last week, Acta said John Lannan would get the Opening Day start, followed by Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera. He said he would wait until the end of camp to announce the last two slots.

Despite his early success this spring, Martis said he had been dissatisfied with his slider and he worked on the pitch Tuesday afternoon, throwing it extensively. Nieves said Martis made great progress, getting ahead in the count and placing the ball well.

"The slider was working," Nieves said. "Everything was working."

Martis had some crowd support as his parents flew from their home in Willemstad, Curacao, to attend the game. He said they will stay for a week. When he walked off the mound after ending his afternoon with a Huff pop out to third base in the sixth, he made the sign of the cross and pointed to the heavens.

In four starts and five appearances last September, Martis compiled a 1-3 record and 5.66 ERA with 23 strikeouts. Acta said there is nothing different about Martis's mechanics or approach -- he's simply been more aggressive and composed this spring.

"He's thrown more strikes," Acta said. "He's probably not as impressed with hitters as he was the first time around here. He's more confident and attacking the strike zone more."

Nationals Notes: Catcher Josh Bard, picked up by Washington last weekend after his release by the Boston Red Sox, did little to push Nieves for the backup job after entering the game as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded in the seventh inning.

In his second appearance for Washington, Bard flied out to left field, leaving the bases full for left fielder Roger Bernadina -- who sacrificed a runner home and earned more praise from Acta after the game.

In the ninth, Bard left another man on when he flied out to right. Nieves also was 0 for 2, but he is known as a stronger defensive catcher than Bard.

Acta said before the game he likely would keep a backup catcher who was more reliable defensively, noting that "most managers want to see a guy who can catch and throw" on the bench. . . .

The Nationals often looked flummoxed by Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara, a Nippon Professional Baseball all-star who played the past nine seasons for the Yomiuri Giants but hadn't pitched since March 9, when he gave up three runs in two innings against the New York Mets. He reportedly just learned a change-up days ago, and struck out seven in 3 2/3 innings while allowing only one earned run.

"He looked like a guy who has thrown [the change-up] a lot of years, actually," Acta said. . . .

The Orioles did not play Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora or Cesar Izturis, all of whom returned from the World Baseball Classic.

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