- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Nationals brought Jason Marquis into the rotation with a two-year, $15 million deal last December with the hope of giving the young staff a veteran arm to help reduce wear and tear on the bullpen.

But the right-hander struggled badly in spring training, posting a 9.15 ERA in 20 2/3 innings of work in the Grapefruit League. And right out of the gate Wednesday night against the Phillies he got himself in trouble, walking three Phils, hitting one and allowing a single in a two-run top of the first.

Marquis did settle down a bit after the rough start, and powered by Ian Desmond’s two RBI hits, Washington hung in with the two-time defending National League champs through four innings.

However, Marquis came unglued after allowing three straight hits to open the fifth — including a two-run blast to Ryan Howard — and was pulled after allowing six runs and eight hits in just four-plus innings of work on the night in an 8-4 loss to Philadelphia in front of 27,240 at Nationals Park.

“It took a little bit, but I was able to find it,” Marquis said of his outing. “I made some good pitches in that fifth inning before the Howard home run. I’m disappointed, but in five days I’ll be ready to go.”

“I thought he was moving along good, sinking the ball OK,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said of Marquis. “He got better and better as spring training went. His last start was his best start in spring training. He’s not there yet, I don’t think he’s at the top of his game.”

Washington — who opened up with seven straight losses to start the 2009 season — now hopes to avoid their third straight this year when they close out the series Thursday against Philadelphia.

Marquis walked Jimmy Rollins to open the game, hit the next batter, Placido Polanco, on his first offering to him. Chase Utley then singled to right to load the bases for Howard. The right-hander did get Howard to hit into a double play, but Rollins came across the plate for an early 1-0 Philadelphia lead.

Jayson Werth walked, and then when facing Raul Ibanez, Marquis uncorked a wild pitch through Ivan Rodriquez’s legs that scored Polanco from third. Ibanez walked, but Marquis got out of the inning on a nice play on a Shane Victorino drive by Adam Kennedy to force out Ibanez at second.

Lefty Cole Hamels walked Nyjer Morgan on four straight pitches to open the home half of the first, and Morgan stole a base for the second straight game with Ian Desmond up. However, Hamels escaped any damage with a Desmond strikeout and groundouts by Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn.

Marquis opened the second with his first strikeout as a Nat against Carlos Ruiz, then got Hamels to fly out to left. Rollins got on base with a two-out double on a ball that Morgan couldn’t quite grab with a diving effort, but the threat was ended when Polanco lined out to Desmond.

Willingham got Washington’s first hit of the night on a single that Rollins couldn’t quite handle, but Rodriguez popped out to Victorino. Hamels struck out Mike Morse, but Willingham stole second with Kennedy at the plate — but the Nats’ second baseman grounded out to end the frame.

Marquis got a quick inning in the third, as Utley lined out, Howard struck out, and Werth grounded out for the 1-2-3 inning.

The pitcher then grounded out to open Washington’s half of the inning and Morgan followed up with a grounder to first for a quick two outs.

However, the heart of the Nats order put together some offense, as Desmond hit his first homer of the year to center just above the 402-feet sign to put Washington on the board on an 0-1 pitch. Zimmerman walked and then Dunn followed suit, and Willingham brought Zimmerman around with a single to left to tie the score at 2-2. Rodriguez recorded a tapped single that loaded the bases, but Morse shattered his bat and grounded out and end the frame.

Ibanez grounded out to open the fourth, but Victorino got on base on a single that Zimmerman couldn’t quite get a hold of. Ruiz added a single to left, and Hamels helped his cause with an RBI single to center that brought around Victorino and put Philadelphia back in front 3-2. Marquis limited any further damage as Rollins grounded into a double play to end the inning.

Kennedy opened Washington’s fourth with a fly out, Marquis struck out, but the Nats again got another two-out rally going when Morgan reached second on a fielding error by Howard, and Desmond got his second RBI of the night with a double into the left-field corner to tie the score back up. Zimmerman struck out to end the fourth, but not before Washington pulled even for the second straight inning.

However, Marquis and the Nats fell behind for good in the fifth, when Polanco opened the frame with a double, and Utley put Philadelphia back in front with an RBI single.

Howard then crushed his second homer in as many games to put the Phillies up 6-3 with a shot Howard blasted into the Scoreboard Walk deck in center field. Marquis was yanked after the homer, exiting after just four-plus innings of work and bringing in the bullpen early for the second straight game.

“When I made pitches on him tonight, I got him out,” Marquis said. “When I left the one ball out, you saw what he was able to do with it. That’s what he thrives on — a ball up out over the plate, pitchers making a mistake, and getting the barrel through the ball.”

Tyler Walker came in for relief with no out in the fifth and got the Nats out of the frame without any further damage thanks to a pair of strikeouts and a ground out.

Dunn walked to open the Washington half of the fifth, but was stranded after Willingham and Rodriguez both flied out and Morse struck out.

Ruiz flew out to open the sixth, then Ross Gload pinch-hit for Hamels, who allowed two earned runs, five hits, four walks and five strikeouts in 103 pitches over five innings of work. Gload popped out and Rollins struck out to end the top half of the frame with Walker throwing two scoreless innings with three strikeouts.

Chad Durbin came in relief for Philadelphia, and got a long fly out by Kennedy and two ground outs to keep Philadelphia up by three runs heading into the seventh.

Polanco got a single off new reliever Jesse English in the seventh that hit the pitcher, but English stayed in the game and walked Utley. He got Howard to fly out and was pulled for Tyler Clippard.

Clippard walked Werth to load the bases, and Ibanez plated him with a sacrafice fly to right before Victorino ended the top of the seventh with a fly out.

Desmond struck out to open the bottom half of the inning, but Zimmerman dropped in a single to right to get on base. Dunn struck out, but Willingham walked to put two on for Rodriguez — but the veteran catcher grounded out.

The Nats put displaced shortstop Cristian Guzman in right in the top of the eighth, hoping to give him some work in the outfield and also add a bit off offense down by four runs. Guzman did field a Ruiz hit to right to open the inning, then fielded a fly out for the first out of the frame. Clippard walked Rollins to push Ruiz to second, but he got out of the jam by inducing a double-play by Polanco.

Guzman knocked in a triple to center in his first at bat of the night, and Kennedy knocked him in with a sac fly to right to cut the lead to three. Willie Harris came in as a pinch-hitter and hit a double that was just out of Werth’s reach, but reliever Antonio Bastardo got Morgan to pop out for the second out of the inning. Ryan Madson came in and got Desmond to strike out to limit the damage to just one run.

Matt Capps came in for his Nats debut in the ninth, and struggled in a 24-pitch inning, allowing an unearned run to come across and having to got out of the inning when Madson was left in the game to bat with the bases loaded.

Utley got on base on a fielding error by Desmond. Howard got his third RBI of the night by knocking in a double to center, and Werth moved him to third with a long fly to center. Ibanez popped out to left, but Capps kept the inning going by walking Victorino. Ruiz was intentionally walked, and Capps finally ended the inning with a strikeout of Madson.

Zimmerman struck out to open the bottom of the ninth, but Dunn singled to right-center to get his first hit of the night. Willingham dropped a hit into center, but Rodriguez ended the game by hitting into a double play.

Washington closes out the homestand Thursday afternoon when the Nats send out Craig Stammen to the hill to face Kyle Kendrick. After the 4:35 p.m. contest, the team heads to New York to take on the division-rival Mets in a three-game series starting Friday night at Citi Field with Garrett Mock taking on Mike Pelfrey.

But their new veteran catcher was confident with some tweaks, the Nationals will be able to avoid the poor start that ended last season before it started.

“Our team is going to be fine,” Rodriguez said. “We just got to make adjustments in everything … when that happens to a ballclub, we’re going to be just fine.”

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