Martis returns to the bullpen after first start

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ATLANTA | Shairon Martis pitched well in his debut performance Thursday night, but it won’t lead to another start for the Washington Nationals, at least not at this point.

Manager Manny Acta said he intends to put the 21-year-old back in the bullpen, where he will remain for the rest of the season barring unforeseen circumstances.

“We like what we see,” Acta said Friday. “But this is just to take a look at him. It’s not like he’s going to push so hard that he’s going to come to spring training locked up for a spot. He’s 21 years old, so this is part of his development, getting his feet wet.”

Given a chance to plug the rotation hole created when Collin Balester strained a glut muscle, Martis impressed against the Atlanta Braves. He allowed two runs and four hits over five innings, and even though he issued five walks and threw half of his 92 pitches for balls, he showed poise in escaping a couple of jams.

The Nationals want Martis to spend the next three weeks learning more about the challenges of pitching in the big leagues and learning from the veterans around him.

“When you bring young kids up to give them a cup of coffee, it’s so you can go through the growing pains of adjusting to the major leagues,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “You’ve got to learn the hitters. You’ve got to learn all the technology that we now have with video and advance reports, really get your feet wet and figure out how to pitch up here at this level and make adjustments now so you don’t do it next year.”

Hill surgery minor

The damage inside Shawn Hill’s right elbow was less severe than some Nationals officials had feared, so orthopedist James Andrews performed only minor surgery Friday in Pensacola, Fla.

Andrews removed some small bone spurs in Hill’s elbow but found no loose bodies or damage to the ulnar collateral ligament, which could have required reconstructive Tommy John surgery.

Hill will begin a rehab program next week, working on motion and strength, and he is expected to be ready for spring training.

The Nationals were encouraged by the news, but they know they can’t go into 2009 counting on the 27-year-old to join their rotation because of his lengthy history of arm trouble.

“Obviously he’s going to have to heal from the surgery and then go through rehab and a throwing program,” Bowden said. “I don’t think any of us are going to know until the end of spring training. We pray for him. We root for him. He’s a great kid.”

Extra bases

An MRI taken on Ronnie Belliard’s right leg confirmed the club’s original diagnosis of a strained groin. The team won’t rule out the possibility of the veteran infielder returning before the end of the season, but he will need to heal in about two weeks to do it. …

Balester will start Sunday’s series finale against the Braves. John Lannan and Odalis Perez will follow Tuesday and Wednesday at New York. …

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