- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2009

As a mob formed around Ryan Zimmerman in the visitors’ clubhouse at San Francisco’s AT&T; Park on Wednesday afternoon, Shairon Martis quietly stood across the room, getting dressed and preparing for the flight back to the District.

Hardly anyone noticed the 22-year-old right-hander, certainly not with Zimmerman stealing all the attention after having the majors’ longest hitting streak in two years halted at 30 games.

That was fine with the unassuming rookie from Curacao, who rarely seeks attention but at this rate deserves mountains of praise from the Nationals and their fans. Few realize it, but he has become Washington’s stopper.

At 5-0, Martis is tied for the National League lead in wins. Dating to last September, he has been the winning pitcher in half of Washington’s past 12 victories. And he has shown an impressive knack for coming through when his team needs him most, stopping losing streaks like a time-tested ace.

When the Nationals opened the season 0-7, Martis posted the staff’s first quality start to beat Philadelphia. When his team was coming off two straight losses to St. Louis, its bullpen exhausted from overuse, Martis pitched the franchise’s first nine-inning complete game in three years.

After the Nationals had three straight road losses this week - having surrendered a total of 30 runs in the process - Martis ended the streak and sent his teammates home happy, tossing seven innings of two-hit ball to beat the Giants.

The young hurler knew what his task was Wednesday: Win.

“It gave me a lot of motivation because I wanted to break [the losing streak] up,” he said. “I came in, got a win, and now we can start a new [streak].”

Perhaps the least heralded player in the majors this season, Martis has quietly gone about his business and in the process has opened the eyes of the Nationals and everyone else who has watched him pitch like a savvy veteran.

Few saw this coming, even in the Washington clubhouse. When camp opened this spring, one 22-year-old right-hander was getting all the attention: Jordan Zimmermann, the franchise’s top prospect who had been on everyone’s radar screen since he was drafted in 2007. By the end of camp, Martis (who posted a 2.76 ERA in seven spring outings) joined Zimmermann as the new young guns of the Nationals’ rotation.

Now, more than a month into the season, Zimmermann has taken a bit of a backseat to Martis, whose 4.10 ERA is misleading because of one wretched start in Philadelphia on April 27. Throw that one out, and his ERA drops to 2.95.

“He pitched better than everyone in spring training,” manager Manny Acta said. “Maybe he hasn’t been as highly touted as the other kid, but he does have a lot of fans inside our clubhouse and coaches’ room and our front office.”

The Nationals’ acquisition of Martis - in a July 28, 2006, trade with the Giants for veteran reliever Mike Stanton - barely drew headlines. He was 19 years old, pitching in the low-Class A South Atlantic League, and he was known more for throwing a seven-inning no-hitter for the Netherlands in the 2006 World Baseball Classic than anything else.

Jim Bowden didn’t know much about Martis when the Giants expressed interest in acquiring Stanton for the stretch run, but Washington’s former general manager went on the advice of a couple of scouts who had been tracking the young right-hander and thought he had potential. Looking back, Martis barely knew how to handle the situation when he was called into his manager’s office and informed he was being traded to the Nationals.

He had to ask his manager to repeat the information because it didn’t register at first. When it finally dawned on him what was happening, Martis’ first thought was, “I’ve got to find some new friends.”

These days, he - not to mention the Nationals - is happy the way things worked out.

“For three years, I’ve been with this team, and I’ve been doing good,” he said. “Most of the guys, I’m close to them. So it’s not like I’m sad they traded me. I think I’m good over here.”

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