- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The seven men who made up the bulk of the Washington Nationals’ 2009 rotation own a combined record of 42-68 and have made 167 big league starts.

The man the Nationals introduced Tuesday as the new leader of that baby-faced rotation, Jason Marquis, owns a career 94-83 record while starting 231 major league games.

Suffice it to say that Washington’s staff welcomes Marquis’ experience with wide-open arms.

“It’s very difficult to go into a season - as we did - with one second-year pitcher at the top of your rotation and four rookies,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “It’s very difficult to be consistent. … [This signing] brings a whole myriad of different effects to the ballclub, and they’re all positive.”

Marquis hardly qualifies as “ace” material. In previous stints with the Braves, Cardinals, Cubs and Rockies, he was never considered more than a middle- to back-of-the-rotation starter. But the 31-year-old right-hander immediately becomes Washington’s most accomplished pitcher, and with that designation comes added responsibility.

The Nationals will ask Marquis not only to churn out his usual 32 starts, 200 innings and sub-4.60 ERA but also to mentor new rotation mates John Lannan, Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler and (soon enough) Stephen Strasburg on the ins and outs of life as a successful big league pitcher.

It’s a role Marquis, who signed a two-year, $15 million contract, said he’ll relish. He remembers well his formative days earlier this decade in an Atlanta rotation that included future Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Now he thinks he’s ready to ascend to a teaching position himself and impart what he has learned to his younger teammates.

“I’ve been in their shoes before,” he 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.”

Hailed by Rizzo for being “as consistent a performer as there is in baseball,” Marquis is a no-nonsense pitcher, a tough native of Staten Island, N.Y., who makes up for what he lacks in physical prowess with guile and grit. In each of the past six seasons, he has recorded at least 11 wins, made at least 28 starts and pitched at least 167 innings.

Those are the kind of reliable stats no one else on Washington’s pitching staff can guarantee, though Lannan is closest to achieving that status after two strong big league seasons.

So why did a free agent coming off an All-Star season and a playoff trip with the Rockies choose to sign with a Nationals franchise coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons? Because, Marquis said, of a string of additions Rizzo has made in the past five months, from drafting Strasburg to signing catcher Ivan Rodriguez to trading for reliever Brian Bruney.

“They went out and made the improvements they need to make to be a winning team,” he said.

They may not be done. Still looking to bolster what was the majors’ worst bullpen in 2009, the Nationals are attempting to secure former Pirates closer Matt Capps before Christmas. Capps, who recorded 66 saves in the past three seasons before being nontendered by Pittsburgh this month, has narrowed his list of potential landing spots to the Nationals and Cubs. He plans to make a decision in the next day or two.

The Nationals also were closing in Tuesday night on a one-year contract with veteran left-handed reliever Eddie Guardado.

Washington officials still haven’t ruled out acquiring another veteran starter and/or a defensively gifted middle infielder to go with the players they’ve already added this winter, a growing stash of reinforcements that now includes Marquis.

“We have a wish list, a shopping list,” team president Stan Kasten said. “And I will tell you, we have more things on our list. We’re not through.”

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