After concluding the worst start of his career - and by many metrics, the worst start in Nationals history - Jason Marquis repaired to the batting cages inside Nationals Park, hoping to repair whatever was wrong with his haywire delivery.
With pitching coach Steve McCatty by his side, the right-hander kept throwing pitches, making up - from a pure workload standpoint - for the ones he didn't throw against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday. There certainly wasn't going to be much to make up for the ones he did.
Marquis, who signed a two-year, $15 million deal with the Nationals after the first All-Star season of his career, has rarely resembled that pitcher since the start of spring training. Things might have hit their low point on Sunday, when Marquis failed to retire a batter and gave up seven runs in the first inning of an 11-7 loss to the Brewers. But it would only represent the limit on the curve of progress if Marquis figures out what's wrong. Right now, there's no evidence that he has.
"I just don't have a feel for anything right now," Marquis said. "I can't make my pitches. Even when I do, I feel like there's nothing really on it. The movement's not there. The location's not there. I need to find that answer quick."
He became the first starter in Nationals history not to retire a batter, hitting two, walking one and giving up four hits to the seven Brewers he faced. Four batters after Marquis left, Craig Counsell hit a grand slam off reliever Miguel Batista, finishing the scoring in a 10-run, 14-batter Brewers romp through the first inning.
The loss dropped Washington (6-6) back to .500, ended a three-game win streak and cost the Nationals a chance at a sweep of the Brewers.
The Nationals outscored the Brewers 7-1 after the first inning, pulling within three runs in the seventh inning. But to expect them to reverse the damage done by Marquis would have been too much.
And even if the Nationals had won, the greatest concern would have remained figuring out what's wrong with Marquis. The 32-year-old says he's healthy; it was the first thing manager Jim Riggleman asked pitching coach Steve McCatty when Marquis came off the mound on Sunday. But while Riggleman and pitching coach Steve McCatty said they haven't had time to figure out whether to skip Marquis in the rotation, change his schedule or drop him altogether, it's likely something will change.
Sunday's start was hardly the beginning of Marquis' troubles. He has pitched just 8 1/3 innings in three starts this year, allowing 19 earned runs on 18 hits in that time. Put another way, Marquis has allowed twice as many runs as John Lannan, despite the fact Lannan has thrown 7 1/3 more innings and has struggled at times in his own right.
The Nationals signed Marquis to give them a veteran presence at the top of the rotation, and penciled him in as the No. 2 starter in a rotation full of pitchers with similar approaches. Marquis won 15 games for the Rockies last season with a sharp sinker that let him get batches of ground-ball outs, though he floundered badly enough in the second half of the season that Colorado left him off its postseason roster.
He struggled much of the way through spring training, raising similar concerns at times about his inability to find the right feel for his pitches. For a sinkerballer, that's a deadly curse, and Riggleman sounded like a man willing to try whatever is necessary to remedy it.
"I wouldn't mind trying to find some way to change his routine, get him out of this rut, whether it was to throw him sooner, back him off a couple days or do something different with him, just so he's got a different feel to what he's doing," Riggleman said. "He can't be feeling good about what he's doing."
Handed a 10-run deficit before they picked up a bat, the Nationals battled back with 16 hits against the Brewers, six of them in a four-run fifth where Washington sent 10 batters to the plate. The Nationals had a chance to pull within two in the seventh inning, but center fielder Carlos Gomez threw Ian Desmond out at home plate, with Desmond's attempt to jar the ball loose from catcher Gregg Zaun unsuccessful.
"The ball beat me there. I didn't really have any other play," Desmond said. "If he'd have dropped it, I'd have been safe. But I didn't really think I had a chance otherwise."
McCatty and Riggleman were pleased with the way Marquis threw in the cage, but there's no guarantee he's found an answer for anything. And as catcher Ivan Rodriguez said, there's usually no quick fix for a sickly sinkerballer to regain his feel.
Marquis is as eager as anyone to find the answer. But it's anyone's guess how long that will take.
"I want to get on the mound tonight, if I could," Marquis said. "I'll come in tomorrow, sit down with 'Cat' and come up with a game plan."