By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 19, 2010; D05
Brought here to provide the Washington Nationals' pitching rotation legitimacy, Jason Marquis tumbled into absurdity Sunday afternoon. Fourteen minutes after he had walked out of the first base dugout, Marquis slowly trudged back into it, head down and embarrassed. Four of the batters he faced singled, one of them walked and two were hit by a pitch. That was it. The day after Liván Hernández recorded 27 outs, Marquis accounted for zero.
A three-game Nationals winning streak built on quality starting pitching unraveled as Marquis, the veteran signed this past offseason to solidify the top of their rotation, submitted one of the worst starts in the dense annals of wretched Nationals pitching and raised questions about his next start. In an 11-7 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, Marquis became the first Nationals starter ever who failed to retire a single batter.
The Brewers used Marquis's meltdown to score 10 runs in the first inning, making the 16 hits from the Nationals' offense mostly moot. Marquis became the 15th starting pitcher in baseball history, and the first since Philadelphia's J.D. Durbin in 2007, to allow seven or more runs without recording an out.
After Marquis walked off the mound, having thrown 13 strikes in 28 pitches, the first thing Manager Jim Riggleman did was ask if is he was healthy. Marquis immediately and indirectly gave an answer. "Let me go throw some more down in the cage," Marquis said. "I've got to figure this out."
Riggleman knew Marquis was healthy. Now, the Nationals need to figure out how to fix their biggest offseason pitching acquisition.
"It's an embarrassment, what I'm doing out there right now," Marquis said. "I've got to find that answer quick. It's just not happening right now."
Two weeks into his Nationals tenure, Marquis has been perhaps the worst starter in the major leagues. His ERA is 20.52, which is not formally the highest in baseball because Marquis, despite making three starts, has only pitched 8 1/3 innings, not enough to qualify for the title. (Javier Vázquez of the New York Yankees, with a 9.82 ERA, is the official worst.) Marquis also became the first pitcher to reach three losses.
The Nationals will not drop Marquis from their rotation -- "We made a commitment to him this offseason," Riggleman said. But, in an effort to change his fortune by changing his routine, the Nationals may move Marquis's next start back.
"Sometimes you get out there and you want to do so well," pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "You're coming over here, wanting to be that competitive guy. He's really pressing."
The Nationals this offseason focused on finding a reliable veteran to place atop their starting rotation. Their search stopped on Marquis, who signed for $15 million over two years. "As consistent a performer as there is in major league baseball," General Manager Mike Rizzo called him at the time.
Marquis's disastrous outing Sunday pushed him further adrift from his prior track record. Marquis entered the season with a career 4.48 ERA. In order for Marquis to reduce his 2010 ERA to 4.48, he would have to throw 30 consecutive scoreless innings.
"I just don't feel like there's anything behind the ball," Marquis said. "I don't feel any power, any feel of a release point to get the ball where I want it right now. I've got to find a way to get it done."
Marquis relies on keeping his sinker low in the strike zone, throwing pitches that will induce groundballs. Since spring training, he has been unable to find a comfortable delivery that will allow him proper location. Sunday, his sinker sailed high and inside.
"I've tried to use other pitches with him, and it doesn't work," catcher Iván Rodríguez said. "It's tough. Right now, he's going through a tough time. He needs to get ahead in the count, throw strikes, don't think too much. I think he's a little bit over-thinking right now. But he's going to be okay. We need to keep him positive."
On Sunday, the Nationals trailed by double-digit runs before they had a chance to bat. Miguel Batista, Marquis's replacement, surrendered a grand slam to Craig Counsell, and with one out, the Brewers had scored 10 runs. Batista escaped without surrendering an 11th, but in a 28-minute half inning the Brewers scored 10 runs in the first for the first time in their history.
Batista threw five innings and didn't allow another run, which allowed for a glimmer of a Nationals comeback. The bullpen shut out the Brewers for the last eight innings. The Nationals scored four runs in the fifth and two more in the seventh to cut the deficit to three, but couldn't come any closer.
Marquis had walked off the mound hours earlier, most of the 18,789 in attendance hurling boos. Marquis had never left a game so early, but this time didn't seem much different than other times he has left his team without a chance to win. "It's not a good feeling," he said.