- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2011

These days there isn’t a more fortuitous matchup for a struggling offense than Javier Vazquez.

Once a stalwart of starting rotations from Montreal to Atlanta, the right-hander signed a one-year, $7 million contract with the Florida Marlins last December. Little has gone right since.

Over seven starts this season, opponents battered Vazquez like he was lobbing batting practice. That continued Sunday afternoon, as Washington deposited his pitches all over Nationals Park en route to a 8-4 win over the Marlins.

“He just left balls over the plate,” said Ivan Rodriguez, who entered the game batting .217, but delivered two hits, a walk and three RBIs. “When he’s on and keeps the ball down around the corners, he’s tough to hit. He had a bad day.”

Runs haven’t been easy to come by for the Nationals this season, ranking in the baseball’s bottom third in most offensive categories. But Vazquez struggles early, allowing an .395 batting average in his first 15 pitches of the game. That’s when the Nationals jumped on him, bringing home six runs before the first inning ended and starter Jason Marquis took the mound.

“Getting the runs early was big,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “That’s been a bit of an issue for us.”

‘Bit of an issue’ is an understatement for a team that started six players with averages of .230 or worse.

But after Roger Bernadina and Jayson Werth hustled out infield singles, Laynce Nix singled home the first run. Rodriguez fouled off three pitches, then dropped a two-run single into right field.

Vazquez’s velocity sat at its normal 87-88 miles per hour. But little he threw fooled the Nationals. They swung and missed at only five of his 90 pitches. That’s been a season-long issue for Vazquez, leading to 75 opponents reaching base via hit or walk in 39.1 innings.

The first inning’s only extra-base hit came from Marquis. The pitcher takes pride in wielding an effective bat and even hit a home run off Vazquez earlier in his career. With 101 career victories, Marquis estimates 10 of those came because he provided a timely hit, moved a runner over or hustled to take an extra base.

“I’ve done that since I was a little kid,” Marquis said. “I’m a guy who pays attention to detail.”

Marquis, thrown out at third trying to stretch the double into a triple, added a single. And he pitched 6.2 solid innings, scattering six hits and two earned runs.

Vazquez settled down to retire nine of the next 11 batters he faced. But he lasted only four innings. And the most runs the Nationals (19-21) scored in the first inning since 2005 allowed them to avoid a series sweep by the Marlins (23-16).

The inning also provided a jolt of optimism in the clubhouse that the offensive woes won’t be a season-long problem.

“It seems like we’re one pitch, one swing from being six or seven games over .500,” Marquis said.

Added first baseman Adam LaRoche: “I think we’ve only scratched the surface.”

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