34-year-old Martin looked to reignite his career last season by returning as a knuckleballer. Martin pitched in 24 games between 2009-10 with the Nationals, going 6-9 with a 4.32 ERA.
He last pitched professionally in 2013, but returned to the mound within the Nationals organization in 2016, this time as a knuckleball pitcher.
Martin started nine games with the Nats in their minor league system last season, going 2-5 with a 5.64 ERA. His most notable start came against Hartford while with Double-A Harrisburg on Sept. 5, pitching eight innings, allowing four runs on seven hits and tossing 99 pitches, 66 for strikes. The Senators rallied to win the game 5-4 on a Jose Marmolejos walk-off homer.
The Nationals were so impressed and intrigued by Martin’s knuckleball pitch they invited him to this year’s early camp roster.
“Yes, we are committed to him,” said Nationals director of player development Mark Scialabba. “We are going to see this through. Last year, finished up in Harrisburg. I think it was actually (their last) game where he pitched for us. Hopefully, he can get to work with (former major league pitcher and Boston Red Sox starter) Tim Wakefield a little bit and (pitching coordinator) Paul Menhart.
“We want to continue that process right now. Hopefully, he will be able to break with the club. It’s pretty impressive when he commands it and has a feel for it on a particular day, he shows that he can pitch at a high level with that. You never know. At this point in his career, it’s an opportunity that he wanted to try and we had talked about it in the past.”
Also in the early camp is Simms, who pitched 29 games (11 starts) in Harrisburg last season. Simms has demonstrated his ability to be a reliable long man coming out of the bullpen and available for a spot start. The 25-year-old was an 11th-round selection in the 2013 draft out of the outstanding Rice University baseball program.
“He is doing well,” Scialabba noted. “He is healthy and strong. He’s a control/command pitcher with a really good curveball. It’s shows plus at times. It has swing-and-miss capability. What we want to see him do is to continue to improve his changeup and continue to throw strikes and attack the zone.
“Hopefully, he can provide value for us in that kind of long man relief or starter role. That’s kind of the position where he’s going to have to earn the right to go to the highest level. We are happy with him where he is right now and we are relying on him and his ability to throw multiple innings.”