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Posted at 05:39 PM ET, 03/09/2011

Bryce Harper is feeling hitterish

Once Jason Marquis finished pitching his four innings today, he headed not for the clubhouse, but the bullpen in foul territory down the right field line. He had used a scant 42 pitches, so he needed extra work to build stamina. He threw more pitches before jogging to the clubhouse, where he lifted weights.

So far this spring, Marquis has made easy work of the times when he’s actually on the mound. Today, Marquis allowed the Marlins no runs on two hits and a walk, striking out three. For the entire spring, Marquis has pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing three hits and one walk.

At his best, Marquis efficiently produces groundballs. This spring he’s needed 70 pitches in seven innings, and today he induced eight groundball outs.

“I’m excited that I’m getting the results I am this early,” Marquis said. “I just want to build on it and stay where I’m at. It’s not really the results I’m happy about – obviously, I’ll take it. But I’m making my pitchers. I’m throwing my sinker down in the zone, my changeup, my slider are down in the zone with good arm speed, good action.”

Marquis’s sinker is the key to his success, and it’s been on. Manager Jim Riggleman also said Marquis had an excellent slider today. “He was just real sharp, real crisp,” Riggleman said. Despite his success, Marquis said he actually struggled early with spotting his sinker, keeping it down in the strike zone. Thanks to a few adjustments he’s made this spring, Marquis quickly found his control.

“I think every pitcher should have keys within their delivery that they can go back to if things aren’t going right,” Marquis said. “I found one or two of them this spring that have really helped me, stuff that I hadn’t done in the past.”

>>> Danny Espinosa is officially having a monster start to his first spring training as the Nationals’ projected second baseman, also his first major league spring training. Today, he went 3 for 3 with a home run, a double, a hit by pitch and four RBI. He’s 10 for 22 with two homers and a double for the spring.

The most promising part of Espinosa’s big day today was his success from the left side of the plate. Espinosa, a switch-hitter, smashed his home run while batting right-handed, off left-hander Mike Dunn. But his RBI double to the left-center gap in the second came left-handed, off Javier Vazquez. Later, batting lefty again, Espinosa hooked a grounder through the hole.

“He’s really working on things from the left side,” Riggleman said. “The right side, we feel like he’s pretty good there. The left side is a little work in progress. He’s putting time in the cage with Rick [Eckstein]. Hopefully, we start to see more games where he’s squaring it up like that.”

>>> Todd Coffey struck out the side today, his fourth scoreless inning in four tries. Coffey has probably been the most dominant Nats pitcher this spring. He’s struck out six, walked none and given up one hit. A pretty solid 13-batter start to his Nationals career.

Coffey pitched the fourth inning today so he could pitch before Ivan Rodriguez left the game. The Nationals feel like Coffey’s addition will be a key to maintaining the great success their bullpen had last season.

“We need Coffey, [Tyler] Clippard, [Sean] Burnett, [Drew] Storen, [Henry] Rodriguez, we need them to be a force for us,” Riggleman said. “They’re doing fine.”

Riggleman said he “wouldn’t hesitate” to pitch Coffey in the ninth inning, but he continued his assertion that the Nationals, at the moment, don’t even have a closer by title.

“We came into this spring not even really using that term – closer,” Riggleman said. “Just try and get outs in the ninth. See if somebody can finish the game in the ninth, regardless of who it is at that particular time. If somebody emerges, that’s better yet.”

By  |  05:39 PM ET, 03/09/2011

 
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