The outing Jason Marquis had for the Nationals on Wednesday was the one they've been waiting for him to put together all year. In fact, it's the kind of performance they paid $15 million to secure over the next two years.
Marquis finally calmed his sinker down after a year-long rodeo with the pitch, getting 10 groundouts with it. He made pitches with "conviction," as he put it, and closed innings out when he would give up a hit or a walk. After four months without a start that lasted longer than four innings, Marquis pitched five innings in his last outing, and followed it with a 7 1/3-inning, one-run gem on Wednesday.
All it meant was he'd go home with a loss he didn't deserve for the second outing in a row, after five defeats he wholeheartedly earned.
The burden for the Nationals' 4-0 loss to the Cubs on Wednesday night could be put on just about anyone but Marquis. Tyler Clippard entered the game with one out in the seventh, allowed the runner he inherited from Marquis to score and gave up a homer to Aramis Ramirez. Sean Burnett allowed another homer, and the Nationals' offense, toothless for the better part of a week, could only trouble Ryan Dempster for 79 pitches in seven innings.
"J pitched a hell of a game, man," Clippard said. "It's frustrating. ... I could care less about giving up my own runs. J pitched a hell of a game, and I kind of took the wind out of our sails. We played a great game, we were in it, and it's frustrating. Those are the games I want to be in, and I haven't been getting it done like I wanted to. It's got to get better. It's got to."
The loss was the seventh in nine games for the Nationals and capped a sweep for the Cubs. It was the second time in three home series the Nationals have been swept.
Marquis, who had a 20.52 ERA in three starts before he had elbow surgery in May, has improved in each of his starts since coming off the disabled list. Wednesday's outing, though, was the first time he was in command of a game from start to finish. He worked quick, throwing 19 first-pitch strikes and getting a pair of double plays and a well-timed groundout with runners on first and second in the fifth.
"I'm more of a feel guy, and every time I try to get deliberate, and be too perfect with things, that's when things get a little out of whack," Marquis said. "Like I said, I'm trying to let the hitters mis-hit the ball and let my defense do some work."
He started the eighth inning with the game scoreless, and walked pinch hitter Tyler Colvin to start the inning. After a long flyout, manager Jim Riggleman pulled Marquis and went to Clippard, whose strikeout-to-walk ratio with men on base (1.55-to-1) was less than half of his ratio with the bases empty.
"The real decision was whether I should have sent (Marquis) out there to begin with, for the eighth," Riggleman said. "I did that based on, he's throwing good, he felt good, he wanted to go back out there, and all that. The four-pitch walk was a little bit of a red flag. If I sent him back out there, I didn't want to send him back out for just one hitter. And the next hitter hit the long fly ball. I felt like, 'You know what? The four-pitch walk, the ball was up a little bit. The fly ball, the ball was up a little bit.' So I wasn't going to temp fate any further, and we went to Clip."
But Clippard couldn't keep the game scoreless, and the Nationals, again, couldn't rally against the Cubs' pitching, which held them to five runs in the three-game series.
And for once, the loss was one Marquis didn't deserve.
"Jason had a heck of a ballgame," Riggleman said. "It was a great pitcher's matchup. And they scratched out a couple runs that we didn't."