At this point, the Nationals plan for Jason Marquis to make his next start in Philadelphia on Friday. But that's as binding a commitment as manager Jim Riggleman would make to his struggling starter on Sunday morning.
Riggleman said that "when the dust settles, we'll probably run Jason out there again" on Friday, six days after he failed to get through the fifth inning for the fifth time this year in a loss to the Diamondbacks. Marquis' longest start this year is 4 1/3 innings, and he missed more than three months with elbow surgery. But Riggleman added he hadn't talked through the Nationals' rotation with general manager Mike Rizzo or pitching coach Steve McCatty yet, and hinted the team could look at some other options.
Two of those options would be Yunesky Maya and Jordan Zimmermann, who are both likely to join the Nationals' rotation this year at some point. Maya, the Cuban right-hander who signed a four-year deal with the team last month, made his first start for the Nationals' Gulf Coast League affiliate on Friday, and Riggleman said he would pitch higher in the minors before he's promoted to the majors, so he's likely a couple weeks from being ready.
Zimmermann, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, is scheduled to start for Triple-A Syracuse today, and has a 1.82 ERA in 29 2/3 minor league innings this year. The Nationals have been cautious with bringing him back, but Riggleman said Zimmermann is "chomping at the bit to have been here last week." He could make a Friday start on regular rest.
"He feels like he's ready," Riggleman said. "I'm sure he feels like five days from now, he's ready to pitch here. That's something we'll consider, but the likelihood is, he'll stay down there a little longer."
If the Nationals wanted to skip Marquis in the rotation, they'd have a couple in-house options in relievers Miguel Batista and Craig Stammen. Stammen had done some of his best work of the season in the rotation before the Nationals moved him to the bullpen, but Riggleman didn't sound inclined to switch him back to starting.
The Nationals are caught in a difficult spot with Marquis; they've committed $7.5 million to him for next year, but he's been an abject disappointment this season, and the Nationals have enough other pitchers in their system they'd like to see. So in the short term, they might think about lifting Marquis from the rotation, even as they're bound to him for the long term.
"If he's progressing and getting more action on the ball, getting the ball down more and we see that things are moving in the right direction, (we'll leave him in the rotation)," Riggleman said. "But we can't just let him be out there and get his brains beat out either, you know? He's got a lot of pride. He's working very hard. He doesn't like what's going on. Nobody's affected more by this than he is."
Riggleman said he couldn't see sending Marquis to the minors with the team so close to expanding its roster to 40 on Sept. 1. He said the Nationals could put Marquis in the bullpen, but would prefer to get him set in the rotation.
But asked if he would keep putting Marquis in games in some capacity if he was merely struggling, and not injured, Riggleman said, "I'm a woman. I can change my mind.
"I'm not going to get locked into anything. I anticipate he'll be starting," Riggleman said. "As I sit here right now, I'm anticipating he'll make his next start."