Control Is No Longer an Issue for Nationals Pitcher Shairon Martis
Friday, April 10, 2009
MIAMI -- Washington Nationals starting pitchers have suffered three straight losses and assembled a 14.25 combined ERA, numbers that would cause many pitching coaches to sprinkle their cereal with antacid tablets, yet Randy St. Claire remains optimistic. He believes young starter Shairon Martis will be a better pitcher Friday against the Atlanta Braves than his colleagues were in the Nationals' first three games -- and better than he was in five mostly rough appearances last season.
You don't need to pore over slow-motion replays or sit through a tutorial on pitching mechanics to understand the source of St. Claire's hope and the reason for Martis's surprisingly solid spring training. Martis earned the No. 4 slot in the rotation -- and the chance to paint over the mess John Lannan, Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera made in their 2009 debuts -- with no major change to his throwing motion, no added pop to his fastball, no extra slide on his slider.
The reason Martis, 22, deserves his faith, St. Claire said, is as plain as the black and white on a stat sheet: He has avoided the spate of walks that characterized last summer's spotty big league stint -- and which hadn't inflicted him at any other level of baseball.
It wasn't that he couldn't find the strike zone when he compiled a 5.66 ERA during his rookie debut; rather, Martis feared putting his best stuff over the plate. He offered more respect to the men he was facing than to himself.
"He gave too much credit to hitters," St. Claire said. "He had good command, but his walks were very high. In the minor leagues, his walks weren't very high.
"That tells me he was trying to make too fine of pitches."
A breakdown clarifies the point: Martis walked 12 in just 20 2/3 innings last summer in five appearances for Washington. That averaged out to more than a walk every two innings. He also gave up five home runs -- a byproduct of falling behind in counts.
This spring, in 29 1/3 innings, he walked just six -- a walk about every five innings -- and achieved a 2.76 ERA. During his four-year minor league career, he averaged a walk every three innings (137 walks in 416 1/3 innings).
"I was trying to do things perfect," Martis said. "That's why I was getting so many walks. This year, I came up trying to be aggressive all of the time, throwing first-pitch strikes."
That will have to continue Friday, Martis realizes. Not only does he hope to earn his second major league victory, but he also carries the burden of trying to turn around the fortunes of Washington's starters.
"I'm not going to put any pressure on myself," Martis said. "I'm a way different player. I'm more confident in myself than last year."
It wasn't that Martis didn't tinker with his delivery throughout the offseason. After a postseason sit-down with St. Claire, Martis spent the winter living at home with his parents in Willemstad, Curacao, eating meals cooked by his mother and attending the Dutch Antilles Baseball Academy run by former New York Yankee Hensley Meulens. Most of the Curacao-born major league players gather there to train in the offseason anyway, Martis said, but preparations were heightened in advance of the spring World Baseball Classic as Team Netherlands opened early training camps in both Curacao and Netherlands.