Meet Jason Marquis

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I have no idea if Jason Marquis is going to be able to duplicate his 2009 stats with Colorado (15-13, 4.04 ERA) in 2010 with Washington. The fact that he’ll be going from a playoff participant to a back-to-back 100-loss team suggests to me that his numbers will probably drop off some.

But after meeting the newest member of the Nationals’ pitching staff today, I think I can say with some confidence that he’s going to be good for this team. Both on and off the field.

On the field, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Marquis has made at least 28 starts in each of the last six seasons. He’s won at least 11 games each year. And aside from a noticeable blip in 2006 with the Cardinals when he posted a gargantuan 6.02 ERA, he’s maintained an ERA under 4.60. He’s a workhorse, an innings-eater, a good, solid, reliable, major league pitcher any ballclub in baseball would want.

Off the field, you also know what you’re going to get. The 31-year-old right-hander is a talker, a big talker. But in a good way. He’s engaging. He’s inquisitive. When he first came up with the Braves in the early part of this decade, he learned from guys like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. And now he wants to impart all the wisdom he’s attained over the years on guys like John Lannan, Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler and (soon enough) Stephen Strasburg.

“I’ve been in their shoes before,” Marquis said. “I’ve looked up to the likes of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz and learned a lot of valuable lessons from them. Not only on the field but off the field. … On the field they’re going to see a guy who gives all he’s got, doesn’t let up, plays the game to win. Hopefully they can feed off what I do between starts, what I do on the mound.”

Make no mistake, the Nats sorely needed a guy like Marquis last season. With a staff that for most of the year included Lannan and four rookies, there was no veteran presence, no seasoned pro who could show these youngsters how to go about being a big league pitcher. Marquis not only fits that role, he relishes it.

Those who have known him over the years recognized it way back when.

“Yeah, when he was young he talked too much,” said Stan Kasten, who was president of the Braves when Marquis first arrived. “You can tell he’s a really good talker, really smart. He was mature at a very young age. He would talk, even though we had a locker room full of mature people. There’s no question he can talk and is willing to reach out and share.”

Marquis and Lannan have known each other a bit previously, and they should make for a perfect righty-lefty tandem. They’re both native New Yorkers (Marquis from Staten Island, Lannan from Long Island). They both have the accent and that gritty New York approach to their jobs that says they mean business.

Can this one guy alone change the complexion of the entire Washington rotation? No, he still only gets to pitch once every fifth day (though his superior batting and baserunning skills make him a valuable option off the bench in between starts). Both Kasten and Mike Rizzo insisted today they’re not done shopping and adding, particularly to the pitching staff. I would not be surprised if they acquire another veteran starter, though perhaps not one in Marquis’ price range ($15 million over two years).

I also expect the Nats to add another arm to the back end of their bullpen, perhaps very soon. Right-hander Matt Capps, the 26-year-old former closer of the Pirates who was non-tendered 10 days ago, is expected to make a decision in the next day or two, and all signs point to him either signing with the Nats or the Cubs. If they can acquire Capps, owner of 66 saves the last three seasons, he’ll likely wind up as their closer on Opening Day (with some competition from Brian Bruney and Drew Storen).

On top of that, I fully expect Rizzo to continue his pursuit of a defensively gifted middle infielder (he again stressed the importance of good defense up the middle today when talking about his pitching staff).

So far this winter, we’ve already seen the Nats add Bruney, Marquis and Ivan Rodriguez, with perhaps Capps next on the list. Not a bad haul to date, with the Hot Stove season not even at the halfway point yet.

The Nats still have a long way to go to reach the ultimate goal. You don’t go from 103 losses to 103 wins in one offseason. But observers around the sport are beginning to notice the moves Rizzo has made, piece by piece, to make this a more competitive club … and perhaps eventually a real contender.

“There’s a positive momentum,” Rizzo said. “People see what we’re trying to do. People see that we’re bringing in some veteran presence with a core of some very good young players. They also see these major league free agents, like Pudge Rodriguez or Adam Dunn who have the option to go wherever they want to go, have chosen to come to Washington, D.C. That makes a statement. I think it’s a statement of where the franchise is headed.”

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Mark Zuckerman

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