Jurrjens, Martis proud of Dutch squad
Hurlers passed on Classic to hone skills in Spring Training
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
Shairon Martis pitched a seven-inning no-hitter for The Netherlands in the 2006 Classic. (Lynne Sladky/AP)
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Before The Netherlands began its remarkable run to Miami in the World Baseball Classic, the Dutch pitcher with the most success in the Major Leagues last season and the one who'd made history during the first Classic were not going to join the ride this time.
Jair Jurrjens of the Braves and Shairon Martis of the Nationals were among the many players throughout the tournament's 16-team field who made the difficult decision to stay in camp to hone their skills for the Major League season, passing up the chance to compete in the Classic for their country.
Little did anyone know at the time, of course, that The Netherlands would be the early feel-good story of the '09 Classic, eliminating the powerful Dominican Republic -- largely on the strength of its pitching staff.
Still, Jurrjens and Martis have no regrets.
Only pride, with a big, orange P.
"I'm very happy for them," said Martis, vying for a roster spot with the Nationals as a right-handed starter. "They were in the best pool. They were playing against Puerto Rico and the Dominican. They played hard. They deserve it.
"I'm not surprised [they are going to the second round] because when they beat the Dominicans the first time, they had a chance to go to the next level. Right now, they have to keep doing what they are doing and play hard."
Jurrjens certainly showed his pride during the thrilling victory over the Dominicans that clinched the Dutch advancing to the next level. Using MLB.TV, Jurrjens watched and cheered his friends and teammates.
"I'm surprised that nobody called the cops on me," said Jurrjens, who was a member of The Netherlands squad during the inaugural Classic in 2006. "I was going crazy."
When the Dutch take on Venezuela in the opener of Pool 2 in the second round of the Classic, Jurrjens and Martis will be elsewhere in Florida with their respective clubs.
And both will be proudly watching and rooting, resting assured that they made a career decision, but one that clearly didn't deter their teammates from pitching the team out of Pool D in San Juan.
"I made my decision. You definitely want to be with your friends and be a part of history like that," said Jurrjens, a 23-year-old from Curacao. "I'm happy for the young kids. They've been able to have fun and enjoy the big league life a little bit, before they go back to their teams. I call them every day and they call me every day too. I'm like part of the team, but not on the team."
Jurrjens was told by the Braves that he could get one start in with the Dutch team but then would have to return to camp. He chose not to disrupt his camp at all. He earned the No. 3 starter role with a 13-10 mark and 3.68 ERA in 31 starts for the Braves in 2008, his first full season in the big leagues.
Martis, meanwhile, made a name for himself in the inaugural Classic as a Giants prospect. While representing The Netherlands, he pitched a seven-inning no-hitter against Panama. The game was stopped because of the 10-run rule.
But Martis, 21, is not regretting another shot at the Classic, not with a shot at the Nationals roster in his sights.
"No. I'm doing well in Spring Training. I figured I better stay here and try to make the team. I don't have any regrets about not going to the (Classic). No regrets like that," he said.
Dutch manager Rod Delmonico said at the outset of the tournament that these pitchers would be hard to replace.
"We hope the next time it comes around we'll have availability for all the players," Delmonico said March 6. "Because you can imagine we'd be a little bit stronger if we had Jurrjens and Martis and (Nationals outfielder Roger) Bernadina."
But with veteran Sidney Ponson leading the way, fellow starters Tom Stuifbergen and Robbie Cordemans putting up zeroes and youngsters like Juan Carlos Sulbaran making a big impression, the Dutch pitching staff has been brilliant. Led by Dutch native and MLB great Bert Blyleven, the Dutch posted a 2.50 ERA in 36 innings, fourth-best in the tournament thus far.
"[They're] a bunch of young kids who did a really good job because they challenged the hitters and threw strikes," Jurrjens said. "That's what you need to do against whoever you're pitching against."