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Posted at 05:23 PM ET, 03/14/2011

Jason Marquis strong again, Drew Storen tips his cap

First impressions can be difficult to shake, but Jason Marquis is on his way to shedding the image he created last year during his first season with the season Nationals, a disastrous campaign derailed by injury.

This afternoon, i na the Nationals’ 4-2 loss to the Tigers, Marquis yielded one run in five innings on two walks and three hits, using a scant 58 pitches. Marquis, at least for the spring, has reclaimed the efficiency on which he built his career. Today, 11 of his 15 outs came on groundballs (seven) and strikeouts (four). Afterward, for the third straight start, Marquis needed to throw 20 extra pitches in the bullpen in order to build stamina.

“I feel good about everything,” Marquis said. “I’m pounding the bottom of the strike zone. That’s my main focus. I’m not thinking East-West. I’m just thinking down with everything, create that downhill angle and let my action on the ball take over.”

Again, it’s only spring, the time of the baseball year made for mirages. But for the first team since the Nationals signed Marquis to a two-year, $15 million contract last offseason, Marquis has resembled the reliable starter who for the previous 10 years compiled a 4.48 ERA.

He’s allowed one earned run in 12 innings this spring while throwing 128 pitches in 12 innings, an average of 10.7. Last year, just for perspective, Cliff Lee had the fewest pitches per inning in the majors with 14.0.

“This is what he does,” Manager Jim Riggleman said. “He gets groundballs. He’s got plenty of arm. This is what Mike [Rizzo] signed.”

Marquis has pitched well in part by discovering what he calls “keys” to his delivery. They are mechanical ticks that Marquis said are so individual it would serve little purpose to try and explain them. But, for now, they work.

“It may not apply to the next pitcher, but it works for me,” Marquis said. “I’ve got to write it down and store in the memory bank so when things do go a little haywire, I can make that adjustment in one pitch instead of [an entire] game.”

>>> Drew Storen needed a new hat before his outing today. Before he pitches, Storen scrawls key words and phrases under the straight brim of his cap. He cannont remember how many hats he used last season. This
(Richard A. Lipski)
spring, he has already gone through four.

This afternoon, Storen wrote three things: “Down,” “Precise” and “Through the target.” Storen’s focus this spring has been pinpointing his pitches and not, to use his term, “trying to out-stuff guys.”

His best effort in that regard came today, when he pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning. It was “definitely” Storen’s best performance this spring, Riggleman said. Storen struck out Don Kelly, the first batter he faced, and then induced a flyout and a groundout to finish off a quick day.

“It’s a process,” Storen said. “I’ve felt the same every time. I was most satisfied with the way I executed. The ball was going where I wanted to more. It’s just mental. It’s just getting in right frame of mind.”

And, for Storen, a matter of choosing the right hat.

By  |  05:23 PM ET, 03/14/2011

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