Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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Marquis looks pretty good…

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Jason Marquis was an unlucky loser last night, getting tagged with the loss despite going 7 1/3 and only giving up one earned run (a run that was inherited and allowed to score by Tyler Clippard, who had one of his worse outings of the year).  In this one outing Marquis managed to lower his era from 11.39->8.79, lower his WHIP from 2.25 to 1.919, and increase his ERA+ from 36 to 47 on the year (see Nats baseball-reference team stats).

So, how did he look?  Actually, his pitching line rather flattered his performance early on.  He walked the leadoff hitter and went 3-2 on the 2nd hitter and was sitting at 15 pitches without recording an out.  His sinker was high, he was missing his spots by several feet, and was getting bailed out by the very generous strike zone from the home plate umpire Bob Davidson.  Marquis even added in a balk call (an obvious balk, i’m not sure why either he or Riggleman bothered to argue it).   Then to add insult to injury Zimmerman threw away a relatively easy grounder to put Marquis into a 1st and 2nd, no outs 1st inning jam. Marquis weaseled his way out of the jam more through luck and a very weak Cubs lineup.  But no damage was done.

Through the next couple innings he still struggled with his control, getting helped out by very high strikes on balls that better hitters would have clubbed.  On one such pitch he was even seen on camera to audibly curse despite getting a called strike (because it was a sinking fastball left belt-high over the plate).  However, by the 4th inning he was back in the groove.  Suddenly he had his sinking movement back, he was starting balls over the plate and having them end on the hitter’s hands, he was throwing his changeup for strikes, and he looked pretty dominant.

In the 8th, Marquis was sitting on about 90 pitches and faced a pinch hitter for opposing starter Ryan Dempster (in a rather shocking decision by the Cubs new manager Mike Quade, taking out Dempster at that point.  Game is 0-0, he’s at 79 pitches through 7 complete innings and had given up 2 hits.  why not let him go further?  Can’t disagree with the results though; Dempster’s PH gets on, scores and earns the win for the team)  In any case, Marquis walked the pinch hitter and within a few minutes immediately showed why leadoff walks hurt.  Clippard allows the guy to steal first pitch, then a mistake to the Cubs star rookie Castro results in a run scoring double.

7 1/3 innings with 4 hits and 3 walks (though honestly a couple of those walks were really “situational” in nature as Marquis pitched around Fukodome to get a double play situation).

As Kilgore‘s WP article suggests though, you can’t win if you don’t score.  Dunn in particular cannot strikeout looking three straight times in a game like this.  Yes the strike zone is wide, and yes a couple of those calls were borderline.  But after your first couple innings, when the zone is established and you know you’re getting a ball off the outside corner and an above-the-belt strike call over the heart of the plate, professional hitters have to adjust.  Dempster did, and Dunn did not.

Verdict on Marquis: pretty promising in terms of him returning to the form that earned him the 2yr $15M contract.  At this point in the season, frankly I’m rooting for two things:

  1. Starting pitcher progress building towards 2011.
  2. Losses to improve their draft position next year.

It seems odd but it is the truth.  A workable Marquis fits into any decent team as a #3/#4 starter, and performances like last night’s will make him look that much better in a rotation headed by Strasburg and Zimmermann.  We’re now 53-73 on the season, on pace for a 68-94 win season and last night’s loss has officially moved us into the 6th draft pick next year.