- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

VIERA, Fla. | Shairon Martis wasn’t supposed to make it to the major leagues last season, and he wasn’t supposed to be in the running for a rotation spot when he arrived at Washington Nationals camp this spring.

Somebody forgot to tell that to the 21-year-old right-hander because he continues to make a case for a big league job on Opening Day.

Martis’ latest strong outing - a five-inning start Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles in which he allowed just two runs on two hits - furthered his cause and helped justify his decision to skip the World Baseball Classic and remain in camp.

Martis, who threw a seven-inning no-hitter for the Netherlands in the 2006 WBC, has dominated major league hitters this spring. In five appearances, he has posted a 1.69 ERA, allowing only nine hits and four walks in 16 innings.

“I know it was a tough decision for him not to play for his native country in the Baseball Classic, but it paid off,” manager Manny Acta said. “He’s making quite an impression. He’s going to be up until the end competing for that spot.”

Martis appears to be battling with fellow right-hander Collin Balester for the final spot in Washington’s rotation behind John Lannan, Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera and a player who is likely to join the group (rookie Jordan Zimmermann).

Because the Nationals won’t need a fifth starter until late April, Martis still could be ticketed for Class AAA Syracuse for the first two weeks of the season.

Whenever he does arrive in the majors, the young hurler believes he will be better prepared than he was in September, when he made four starts with the Nationals after a surprise promotion.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “I’m just bringing those experiences from last year and this year. I have more confidence in myself right now.”

Flores getting close

Catcher Jesus Flores, out nearly three weeks with a right elbow strain, believes he’s close to getting back in the lineup.

Flores felt strong after taking part in batting practice Thursday for the first time since being diagnosed with the injury. He plans to continue working out through the weekend, after which the club will determine whether he’s ready to return to game action.

Flores has done his best in the interim to get to know the new members of Washington’s pitching staff, particularly Olsen and Cabrera. He has caught several bullpen sessions from each starter and has spent a lot of time talking to them about their respective approaches.

That makes him confident he will be ready for the start of the season, even if he catches only seven to 10 exhibition games.

“I know we have new pitchers, but I have good communication with them,” Flores said. “So it’s not going to affect me when the season starts. I’ve been blocking balls. I’ve been doing everything I can to stay in shape. The one or two weeks that are left for me are enough to get ready.”

Extra bases

The Nationals cut six players from big league camp after Thursday’s win over the Baltimore Orioles. Infielders Brad Eldred and Pete Orr, outfielder Ryan Langerhans and left-hander Gustavo Chacin were reassigned to minor league camp. Catcher Luke Montz and outfielder Roger Bernadina were optioned to Class AAA. The moves leave Washington’s roster at 41. …

Ronnie Belliard will miss “at least three days,” according to Acta, after spraining his left ankle running down the first-base line Wednesday against the Florida Marlins. The veteran second baseman limped around the clubhouse Thursday, and the Nationals aren’t likely to take a chance rushing him back. …

Center fielder Lastings Milledge, who suffered a bruised left knee Wednesday night when he collided with Florida first baseman Gaby Sanchez, is day-to-day. The injury is not considered serious. …

Acta shot down rumors the Nationals were upset that Team USA manager Davey Johnson played Adam Dunn at first base in Wednesday’s World Baseball Classic game against Venezuela.

“I don’t even know where that came from,” Acta said. “I really don’t care. … As long as he helps USA win and gets his at-bats and continues to do what him and [hitting coach Rick] Eckstein were doing down here, go Adam, go USA.”