- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

ATLANTA | There are watershed events that tug at the hearts of even the most hardened baseball men. A popular veteran’s retirement. A brilliant pitching or offensive performance by a budding star. And perhaps above all else, a young player’s big league debut.

Such occurrences can turn a meaningless September ballgame between two going-nowhere teams into something far more significant.

“Anytime you have a 21-year-old starting pitcher walk out on the mound, you get goose bumps,” Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. “Regardless of who it is.”

On Thursday night, Shairon Martis made his debut against the Atlanta Braves. Luke Montz, a 25-year-old catcher who also made his first career appearance, joined Martis.

By evening’s end, Braves rookie right-hander James Parr had authored the best debut performance: six shutout innings en route to a 2-0 victory. But Parr’s success didn’t ruin the night. Martis lost his debut, but he left his team encouraged by what it saw.

“He’s 21 years old,” manager Manny Acta said. “So we’re happy.”

The young hurler appeared dominant at times during his five innings. He allowed two runs on four hits.

The Nationals would have liked to see a bit more refined performance from Martis, who walked five and threw an equal number of balls as strikes (46). But as far as debuts go, this was acceptable.

“He came out of it better than a lot of people would have anticipated,” Acta said.

Martis and Montz became the first starting pitcher-catcher combo in franchise history to make their debuts together and the first battery for any club to do so since Colorado’s Luther Hackman and Ben Petrick on Sept. 1, 1999.

Montz, who went 0-for-3 and gunned down a would-be base-stealer, was plenty familiar with his batterymate. He and Martis have been teammates since 2006. They climbed the organizational ladder together through three levels.

“It was unbelievable to catch him,” Montz said. “The best thing that probably could have happened for both our debuts … was to catch him because we’ve been together for so long.”

Martis wasn’t fazed by pitching on the big stage, because he had done it before on the international stage. A native of Dutch-controlled Curacao, he tossed a seven-inning no-hitter for the Netherlands in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. And a few weeks ago, he started against the United States in the Olympics.

“I wasn’t too nervous, because I’ve been in the Baseball Classic. I’ve been in the Olympics,” Martis said. “I was trying to think like this is the same thing.”

Said Montz: “I had butterflies in me. He was ready to go. He looked at me and said this is what the Olympics were all about. This is what big winter ball that he plays is all about.”

Martis cruised his way through the minors on the strength of his raw “stuff,” but he will need to learn how to find the strike zone more often in the majors. The Braves scored one of their runs by taking advantage of three walks and a wild pitch in the fourth.

Their only other run off the rookie pitcher came with some help from center fielder Lastings Milledge, who had trouble corralling a third-inning drive off the wall that turned into a triple and led to a run.

Had the Nationals mounted any offense, Martis might have won. Parr, a 22-year-old thrust into the starting role after scheduled starter Jo-Jo Reyes’ wife gave birth, overwhelmed them.

The only man to record a hit off Parr was Ronnie Belliard, who doubled in the second and singled in the fourth. Even Belliard couldn’t escape the evening unscathed, though. He pulled up lame legging out an infield single in the seventh and was diagnosed with a strained left groin that could end his season.

“It’s tough,” said the veteran, who has hit .353 since the All-Star break. “Not only me, but I think we’re all playing good right now. … I’ll try to get better for the last couple of weeks, and we’ll see what happens.”

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