Dave Nichols: Is Jason Marquis a key to Nats’ future success?

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jason Marquis had a rough outing last night against the Philadelphia Phillies, getting knocked around in the fifth and sixth innings, leading to another loss against the bullies of the National League East. The loss drops the Nats’ record for the season to 14-16 through 30 games. Two losses to start this 10-day, nine-game road trip, with the prospect of facing Roy Halladay tonight, is probably a bad omen if you believe in those things.

But in the bigger picture, Marquis could hold a key to the Nationals finally contending in the division, whether he’s with the team or not.

General Mike Rizzo signed Marquis to a two-year deal in December 2009, hopeful that the veteran would eat innings, lead the staff for two years and lend a little credibility to a pitching staff that has been the weakest link of this team since it moved here in 2005. That plan was derailed last season, when Marquis came up lame with bone chips in his pitching elbow. He was horrendous in a half-dozen starts at the beginning of the season, missed most of the season after surgery and returned in September after the season was lost.

Up until last night, however, Marquis has been a different man. Including last night’s start, he’s 3-1 with a 3.66 ERA with a strikeout rate of 5.9 per nine innings, which would be near a career high for the 32-year-old hurler. He’s already tossed a complete game shutout and is averaging better than six innings per start. He’s giving the Nationals exactly what Rizzo expected he would when he signed him, maybe even a little bit more than that.

Marquis will be a free agent after this season. Should he keep up the quality effort for the bulk of the summer, could we expect to see the Nats re-sign Marquis? Maybe, but probably not. He’s most likely a short-time gap-filler. But Rizzo could definitely flip Marquis in July at the trade deadline, as he did with Matt Capps last summer, for a quality prospect or near-major league ready player in a position of need, such as center field or first base.

Rizzo, as general manager, often refers to his players as “inventory.” Marquis’ troubles last year called Rizzo’s decision to sign him into question, but if he can have a couple good months this summer, Rizzo could move some of his inventory to invest in the Nationals’ future.

Dave Nichols covers the Washington Nationals for Nats News Network. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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