After Eight Years, Martin Finally Gets His Chance

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 20, 2009

A supplemental first-round draft pick eight years ago, J.D. Martin has since endured the full odyssey, experiencing just about everything but a shot at the majors. He injured his arm. He lost his velocity. He re-learned his craft. This offseason, he joined an organization -- the Washington Nationals -- that offered him only a spot in the Class AAA Syracuse rotation. And a spot on the depth chart well behind a half-dozen younger, shinier prospects.

Sunday, Martin's eight-year trial was capped by a reward. Needing a starter to replace left-hander Scott Olsen, bound for the 15-day disabled list with an injury to the left side of his back, the Nationals decided to give Martin the chance. They will promote him and add him to the 40-man roster. Monday -- 2,952 days after signing his first professional contract -- Martin, 26, will make his big league debut against the Mets, becoming the fifth rookie to start a game for Washington this year, and by far the most unlikely.

"He's a kid who's had to scratch and claw for everything he got," acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. "He came in here and pitched extremely well in Class AAA, and he deserves an opportunity."

Flushed out of the Cleveland organization in 2008, Martin this season emerged as Syracuse's workhorse, effective with minimal velocity and unwavering control. In 15 starts, he went 8-3 with a 2.66 ERA. He struck out 63, walking only 10. Only once in his past nine starts did he allow more than a single earned run.

"When he got with us, he just located everything," said Steve McCatty, the pitching coach with Syracuse until taking a similar role, in June, with the Nationals. "In the sixth, seventh innings, he'd be at 65 pitches."

Right after the all-star break, Olsen's injury flared up, prompting the team to schedule an appointment Monday with orthopedist James Andrews. Meantime, Rizzo scheduled things out with the Syracuse rotation, contemplating the next move. Though the Chiefs had other candidates to replace Olsen -- Shairon Martis and Collin Balester, especially -- Washington wanted Martin. Thus, Martis started Friday's game for the Chiefs. Balester started Saturday. Martin hasn't started since before the International League all-star break.

"J.D., he's earned it," Rizzo said. "He deserved it. And we brought this guy in, I gave him my word that if he performs he's going to get an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues for us. And he's held up his part of the bargain for me. So I figured I'd have to help out, and I should hold up my end."

Storen Promoted

Right-handed reliever Drew Storen, the 10th pick in this year's draft, was promoted to high Class A Potomac after striking out 26 and walking none in 14 2/3 innings at low Class A Hagerstown.

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