Marquis needs a statement outing

For Jason Marquis, the stakes get higher every time he fails to be the pitcher the Nationals paid $15 million to get for the next two seasons. He’s back on the mound tonight, starting for the second time after missing more than three months with elbow surgery and making his fifth start of the year. Marquis didn’t go more than 4 1/3 innings in any of the previous four. Prorating his salary for this season so far, Marquis has cost the Nationals about $1.3 million per start - or just over $422,000 per completed inning.

The Nationals owe him $7.5 million for next season, and they’ve got a complement of cheaper, mostly younger options to fill their rotation next year. They could face a tough decision on Marquis if he continues to struggle; whether or not to bring him back or eat his salary for 2011.

Marquis can help them avoid that decision with a strong finish to the season. He felt he threw the ball fairly well last Sunday in Los Angeles, and was done in more by the defense behind him, including his own inability to field a bunt. After the first inning against the Dodgers, he settled down, pitching a pair of shutout innings before allowing a run in the fourth inning. But the Nationals still haven’t seen him record more than an out in the fifth, let alone come close to a quality start.

He’ll face a potent Diamondbacks lineup tonight that’s fared relatively well against Marquis in the past. Catcher Miguel Montero has a 1.050 OPS in 10 plate appearances against Marquis, third baseman Mark Reynolds is at 1.144 in 12 appearances and outfielder Chris Young is at 1.063 in 16. It’s another key outing for the 31-year-old, and it comes against a lineup that can do some damage against him.

First pitch is at 7:05 at Nationals Park, or on MASN and MASN HD.