Nationals fall to Dodgers, 8-3, as Jason Marquis returns to mound

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 8, 2010; 10:55 PM

LOS ANGELES - The brief moments Jason Marquis spent on a major league mound this year consisted partly of mediocrity and mostly of abject disaster. He pitched better Sunday, but only after another debacle and just because he could not have been worse.

In his first start since late April, Marquis placed himself and the Washington Nationals in a four-run hole after a nightmarish first inning that ended with two relievers throwing in the bullpen. Marquis settled down, but not enough for the Nationals to avoid an 8-3 loss to Los Angeles before 43,639 at Dodger Stadium or to quell any concerns about the efficacy of their offseason's most significant free agent acquisition.

Marquis yielded five runs, just two technically earned, in four-plus innings. He surrendered five hits while walking two batters, hitting one and striking out three. His trouble came at the start, when the first four batters reached base, two of them on walks and one on an error by Marquis.

Marquis felt fine physically, "which is a good sign," he said. Despite his struggles, he still believes he can show the Nationals he is a worthy big league pitcher, that he can salvage a season nearly lost.

"No doubt," Marquis said. "I have confidence in myself. I believe in myself. I don't think I'd be at this point in my career if I didn't. I just have to work hard and do the things I know I'm capable of doing."

The Nationals gave themselves a chance when Michael Morse and Justin Maxwell clobbered back-to-back home runs in the second inning, the Nationals' 14th and 15th home runs on their western trip. They could not scrape all the way back, and they finished their road swing at 3-4, extending their streak of road series without a win to 14. The Nationals have still not completed a multi-city trip with a winning record since May 2008.

"We battled," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "But our record doesn't really show it."

More broadly, the Nationals larger worry is they have no answer to a question they never thought they'd have to face: What, exactly, do they have in Marquis? He was an all-star in 2009 and had won at least 11 games in six straight seasons. The Nationals signed him for two years and $15 million this offseason so they could insert him into the top of their rotation.

He now has no wins, four losses, a 15.32 ERA and a right elbow recently ridded of bone chips. In his last start before going on the disabled list, on April 18, Marquis pitched less like the stabilizer of the Nationals' rotation and more like a random fan culled from Section 122. He faced seven batters and retired none of them. They all scored.

Elbow surgery interrupted his season and gave the Nationals reason to hope their splashy free agent starter could be fixed. One scout who watched Marquis make a rehab start at Class AAA Syracuse said he looked more like his old self, not the pitcher with a 20.52 ERA after three outings.

In the first inning Sunday, Marquis offered a brutal flashback. He had never been out because of injury for so long. He felt "just anxiousness, a little nervousness," Marquis said. "Nothing out of the ordinary."

He walked Scott Podsednik, who stole second. Ryan Theriot reached when Marquis could not pick up his bunt, an error. After a throwing error on Theriot's steal by Wil Nieves score Podsednik, Andre Ethier walked. James Loney singled to right, scoring Theriot.

"He just couldn't get ahead of hitters," Manager Jim Riggleman said.

At that point, dating back to April 12, 16 consecutive batters had reached base against Marquis and 14 had scored without Marquis recording a single out. Marquis's ERA for the season had risen to 22.68. Miguel Batista rose and started warming up in the bullpen beyond right field.

Marquis struck out Matt Kemp to snap his remarkable out-less streak and nearly escaped the first with relatively minimal damage when Ronnie Belliard grounded out. But former National Jamey Carroll roped a single, giving the Dodgers a 4-0 lead and dooming Marquis's return.

Morse and Maxwell brought the Nationals back into the game, and Nieves scored the Nationals' third run after he doubled and came home on Alberto González's sacrifice fly in the fifth. Marquis retired five in a row at one point, but he had then widened the margin by allowing an RBI double to A.J. Ellis in the fourth.

"He settled down," Riggleman said. "He showed what he can do. It's just a bad way to get out of the blocks."

Marquis's day ended after facing one batter in the fifth. He threw a change-up that sailed behind Theriot and clipped him in the back. Marquis strode off the field, almost four months after he had last made that walk. Not much had changed.

"I've still got to worry about my next game, my next pitch," Marquis said. "We'll see what happens."

Nationals notes: The Nationals cleared the way for the addition of Marquis and Stephen Strasburg to their starting rotation by sending Ross Detwiler to the 15-day disabled list and Craig Stammen to the bullpen.

Detwiler, who is feeling pain in the right hip he had surgically repaired in February, will have an MRI exam on Monday that will determine if he can pitch again this season. Stammen, who has a 2.38 ERA in his last four starts, will serve primarily as an emergency long reliever.. . .

The Nationals optioned reliever Collin Balester to Class AAA Syracuse after the game. The team needed to clear a roster spot for Strasburg, who will return from the disabled list and start Tuesday.

Balester had been serving in a mop-up role while making the first relief appearances of his career. He struggled with control, hitting a pair of batters in the head.

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