Right-handed pitcher Rafael Martin had one of the best seasons for a reliever in the Nationals' chain in 2011. It all clicked for the 27-year-old, who mesmerized hitters in the Double-A Eastern League.
After starting the season at Single-A Potomac, Martin rolled at Harrisburg, earning a spot on the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League.
The 6-foot-2,195-lb., San Fernando, Calif., native went 5-1 with a career-best 1.65 ERA in 38 games, striking out 54 batters and allowing just 11 walks in 43 2/3 innings.
He pitched only six games for the P-Nats before being called up to Harrisburg, and then his numbers became even more staggering: 44 strikeouts with only nine walks in 32 contests.
The numbers may be eye-popping for the baseball fan, because Martin - signed out of the Mexican League by the Nats before the 2010 season - had posted ERAs of 4.19, 4.12 and 3.61 the three previous campaigns. But none of it was surprising to Nationals coaches.
"It definitely was a surprise (that he was so good)," said Potomac pitching coach Paul Menhart, who is fulfilling the same role with Scottsdale.
"His season stalled a bit out of spring training because he was dealing with small issue of tightness in his shoulder. One month in Potomac and he was outstanding."
Menhart said Martin can set up or close because he has the stuff to make it very difficult for hitters to get a good read.
"He has the right mindset," Menhart said. "Martin is very competitive. His ball moves so much. His pitches look different to each batter up."
The Nationals are excited to see how Martin does against AFL competition. After all, last year it was Cole Kimball that was lethal for the Scorpions and he ended up on the Nationals early in the 2010 season. Kimball sported a 0.75 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 11 games for Scottsdale in 2010.
Maybe this is the springboard Martin has been looking for to showcase his stuff before 2012 spring training.