PHILADELPHIA | Let's get this out of the way first: Jason Marquis' best start of the year should not be a five-inning outing in August when he gave up four hits, walked four and threw 94 pitches. He'd be the first one to admit it.
But compared to the rest of Marquis' work this year, Friday's start looked like a masterpiece.
This, after all, was a pitcher who entered Friday night with a 14.33 ERA in five starts - and brought that mark down by allowing five runs in four-plus innings his last time out. He'd missed more than three months after elbow surgery, and Marquis had the Nationals wondering aloud how long they could keep him in the rotation.
In that light, there was progress on Friday.
"It's a step in the right direction," Marquis said. "I've been working hard to get back where I need to be. I was sick and tired of embarrassing myself out there."
In four of the five innings he pitched on Friday, Marquis put a man on base after recording two outs in the inning, and had to wriggle out of a few self-made jams. But he said the big difference on Friday was that he finally had "conviction" in his pitches, after fighting his elbow the first few starts of the year.
"Obviously, the first three (starts), the injury played a part in that, so I think we can throw those out the window in terms of that," Marquis said. "The last two, I felt good. No excuses there. I just lost a little confidence in myself and trust in what I wanted to do. Tonight was more about conviction and really trusting what I wanted to do, trying to pound the bottom of the strike zone with my sinker."
Said manager Jim Riggleman: "I thought he did a good job. He got ground balls for the most part. He had a couple walks, but he's still finding his way back a little bit. I think he's getting more and more confident. He got us into the sixth inning, so it's progress. I'm very pleased with what I saw out there."