- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 13, 2008

MIAMI | The Washington Nationals will focus on the positives from Shairon Martis’ start Friday night at Dolphin Stadium, and there were plenty of them.

The 21-year-old right-hander dazzled the Florida Marlins in the second outing of his major league career, striking out nine and allowing just two hits over five innings to earn praises from every corner of the Washington clubhouse.

“Very impressive,” manager Manny Acta said.

Said catcher Wil Nieves: “He was great.”

Added pitching coach Randy St. Claire, “I like him a lot.”

But if Martis is going to one day develop into a winning pitcher at this level of competition, he’s going to have to learn how to handle certain moments of importance in the course of a ballgame. Because perhaps if he had not made gaffes in just such a spot Friday night, he might have emerged with his first career win instead of a disappointing 2-1 loss.

The game was decided in the sixth inning, when the Marlins scored a run via a walk, a stolen base and one ragged play that included both a mental and a physical error. Little did Martis or the Nationals realize it at the time, but that one run was the difference in the game.

“When you’re pitching against good pitchers, that run is the one that kills you,” St. Claire said. “That beats you, 3-2, 4-3, 2-1.”

Up to that point, Martis was in top form. Exhibiting the same confidence he took to the mound for his big league debut eight days prior, the young hurler went right after the Marlins’ potent lineup with an impressive fastball/slider/change-up combination.

Through five innings, all Florida managed was one run on two hits, though that lone hit (Jorge Cantu’s leadoff homer in the fourth) was a memorable one. The deep drive to the left-field bleachers was Cantu’s 25th home run of the season, and thus made him the fourth Marlins infielder to reach that figure. No team in major league history had previously accomplished that.

By comparison, Washington’s starting infield Friday of Ryan Zimmerman, Cristian Guzman, Anderson Hernandez and Aaron Boone entered the game with 27 homers combined.

Otherwise, Martis was spectacular. He used his devastating change-up to strike out nine batters, including five in a row at one point, and he entered the sixth with the game tied 1-1 and in prime position to earn his first career win.

“If you don’t pitch down in the strike zone against this team, they will absolutely destroy you,” St. Claire said. “And he did a very nice job of doing that.”

But just when he had a chance to complete his impressive outing with a flourish, the young pitcher’s inexperience finally got the best of him.

Martis opened the inning with a cardinal sin: He walked Hanley Ramirez, which as Acta pointed out “usually turns out to be a double.” Sure enough, Florida’s dynamic leadoff man swiped second base for the second time in the game, and his mere presence out there helped produce the go-ahead run.

When John Baker rapped a comebacker to the mound, Martis turned and had Ramirez trapped between bases. But eschewing the common lesson - run right at the guy and force him to commit to one direction - Martis instead threw behind him to second base. Ramirez took off for third, and when Guzman’s throw skipped away and to the warning track, Ramirez coasted home to give the Marlins a 2-1 lead.

“Those are the things that are going to cause me to lose the game,” Martis said. “If I run after him, I get maybe one out and get out of the inning.”

Said Acta: “The kid should have never thrown the ball. He should have run over to Hanley, make him commit either way and then make the throw. … But you know, he’s 21. He’s here to learn those kinds of things.”

Martis’ night was soon over, and his bullpen mates did escape the rest of the sixth-inning jam to keep the deficit at one. But the way Washington’s lineup kept squandering opportunities to score - pushing across just one run after totaling 18 in back-to-back losses to the Mets earlier in the week - that one little mistake by the rookie right-hander loomed large and ultimately sent his team to defeat.

“It was a mental mistake,” Nieves said. “And I know if it happens again, he’s going to do the right thing.”

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