- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

Manny Acta recalls driving to Woodbridge, Va., two summers ago to watch right-hander Shawn Hill make a rehab start for Class A Potomac. Acta’s eyes were glued to the perpetually injured right-hander, hoping for some sign that Hill was ready to resume his quest to become the Nationals’ ace.

In retrospect, Washington’s manager realizes he should have been paying more attention to the unassuming young man seated next to him behind the plate, a 20-year-old right-hander named Shairon Martis who was preparing for his own start the next day.

“This kid was sitting next to me doing the chart,” Acta said. “And a couple years later, he’s here doing this.”

“This” was the best performance by a Washington pitcher in a long time. In his ninth career start, Martis did what no Nationals hurler had done in nearly three seasons: Toss a nine-inning complete game. His five-hit gem Saturday afternoon helped the Nationals to a 6-1 victory against St. Louis.

Perhaps the future ace of Acta’s pitching staff has been there all along. In a month’s worth of unsightly baseball, Martis has been a godsend. He’s 3-0, leads the staff with 29 1/3 innings pitched and - minus one rough outing last week in Philadelphia - has posted a 2.96 ERA.

And with a sparkling display Saturday against baseball’s winningest team, Martis let the Nationals for at least a moment forget their woes.

“Moments like this, games like this, they’re worth five of those losses that we had before,” Acta said. “This is what we’re working for here, to develop these types of kids.”

Martis’ effort was top-notch in every sense. He opened the afternoon with a six-pitch first inning, all strikes. He retired the first 14 batters he faced and had a perfect game until Yadier Molina singled with two outs in the fifth. He didn’t walk a batter and had only three three-ball counts. And with a fast-paced, efficient work ethic on the mound, he earned the trust of his manager to go the distance in a 110-pitch complete game.

A crowd of 19,950 witnessed a rarity for the Nationals’ pitching staff. Jason Bergmann and Tim Redding each were credited with complete games last season, but each only went eight innings in losing efforts on the road. No one on the staff went all the way in 2007. Not since Pedro Astacio shut out the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 15, 2006, had a Washington starter pitched nine innings.

“Today surprised me because I never think about throwing a complete game,” Martis said. “But now I have, so I know there’s more coming.”

The Nationals can only hope there are more of these performances to come from the young right-hander. And they can only hope to get more complete efforts from the entire roster the way they did during Saturday’s win.

Held in check for four innings by St. Louis’ Joel Pineiro, the Washington lineup came to life during a fifth-inning explosion. The highlight was Adam Dunn’s three-run homer into the second deck down the right-field line, but it wouldn’t have been possible without some help from the Cardinals’ defense.

Moments earlier, first baseman Chris Duncan - giving Albert Pujols a rare day off - dropped Ryan Zimmerman’s foul pop and was charged with an error. Given new life, Zimmerman responded with a single to left, he had already doubled earlier to extend his hitting streak to 21 games, and that allowed Dunn to come to the plate and blow the game open with his seventh homer of the year.

“To be able to produce in that situation,” Dunn said, “it was big obviously for us and for a little confidence boost.”

Nothing was a bigger confidence boost than Martis’ pitching performance. He benefited from three highlight-reel plays behind him in the field, but those defenders had motivation to come through for their starter.

“It’s a lot easier to be in the game when you’re not walking guys, when you’re going right after people, when you know every pitch that he’s going to throw more than likely is going to be a strike,” Zimmerman said.

Afterward, Martis rattled off everything he did well, from a fastball with “good life” to an “excellent” changeup to a “good” slider.

“I mean, today was my day,” he said.

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