Yesterday, after he became just the fifth major-league pitcher in the last eight years to allow four runs without recording an out, Jason Marquis went to the batting cage underneath Nationals Park to throw some more. Then he went to his apartment and watched video. This morning, he watched some more video at his apartment, and still more when he came to the ballpark. Then Marquis went to the bullpen and threw again. Before his next start on Friday, he'll throw one more time, and dive back into his video files for as long as he feels is necessary.
If Marquis isn't able to pinpoint the cause of why he's struggled so mightily to start the 2010 season, it won't be for lack of effort. The right-hander, who signed a two-year, $15 million deal with the Nationals before the season, said his performance in his first three starts -- 19 earned runs in 8 1/3 innings -- is "eating me up inside." He hasn't been able to get a feel for any of his pitches, a kiss of death for a sinkerballer like Marquis. He said his delivery feels "robotic," rather than the rhythmic throwing motion he's usually used, and each time he steps toward the plate, he's conscious of where his leg should be, what position his hands are in. Quite simply, he hasn't felt this bad since the 2006 season, when he had a 6.02 ERA with the Cardinals.
"It just feels like my hand's floating out in the middle of nowhere and you can't make the pitches you want to make," Marquis said. "Velocity's not a big issue. It's life on the ball. My 88, 89, 90 now seems to a hitter like it's 80."
The Nationals are in no hurry to bounce Marquis from their rotation; manager Jim Riggleman said Marquis will make his scheduled start on Friday, and general manager Mike Rizzo said "concern is too strong a word" for how the club feels about what's going on.
"We've discussed things with him. He hasn't performed well," Rizzo said. "But I go back to, like I often do, track record and career and that type of thing. I still believe that Marquis is going to be Marquis at the end of the day."
Marquis said his struggles this year are somewhat connected to his performance at the end of last year, when he followed a first half that landed him in the All-Star game by going 4-7 with a 4.56 ERA in the second half, including a 1-4 mark with a 6.05 ERA in September that got him left off the Rockies' playoff roster.
But he drew the greatest comparison with 2006.
"Last year, I at least gave myself a chance in September to win ballgames," Marquis said. "They maybe didn't come out the way I wanted to, but I think I gave myself a chance to win games last year. This is more of what i went through when I was struggling in St. Louis at the end of '06, and I was able to correct it."
The biggest revelation, Marquis said, came when he watched video of himself from early last season. His delivery was smoother, the action on his pitches more lively. With that in mind, he went out and threw a bullpen session where he worried less about pitching steps and threw better, he said, than any time since last summer.
Now he's got to put that into a game.
"I came up with something that we think is the right move and I'm going to stick with it, instead of maybe giving it one time and (not feeling) good, then (trying) something different," Marquis said. "I'm going to stick with this one thing and just really try to be athletic, be Jason Marquis, and stop trying to be so robotic."