It’s a safe bet that a majority of the fans who came to Nationals Park on Friday night expected to see a dominant pitching performance they’d remember.
But when the 21,399 in attendance on a cool, crisp April evening rose to their feet with two outs in the ninth and gave that pitcher a rousing ovation after the third out was squeezed into the center fielder’s glove, chances are only a few of them expected the one they were admiring to be Jason Marquis and not two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum.
In a complete game shutout, Marquis not only outdueled Lincecum with his 96-pitch performance but he also kept the reining World Series champion San Francisco Giants off balance all night in a 3-0 victory.
“That’s the World Series champions with the strikeout leader pitching against us,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, who was 3-for-3 with two doubles and is now 5-for-7 since returning from paternity leave.
“[Lincecum] might not have had his best stuff tonight, I don’t know, but we just beat them and that says something about us. We’ve got to believe in ourselves and I think people will start believing in us.”
While Marquis was lowering his ERA to 2.62 in five starts this season, his offense was tagging Lincecum for seven hits, including a two-run home run by left fielder Laynce Nix and an RBI-single from Marquis himself. It was the second straight night the Nationals have gotten key offensive contributions from their pitching staff, something that didn’t go unnoticed. But what Marquis did on the mound was considerably more impressive.
There was not a single inning where Marquis allowed two baserunners at the same time, working in and out of men-on-base situations fluidly. He struck out seven, got 14 of the 31 batters he faced to ground out and did not walk a single Giant.
It was easily the best pitching performance of his career in a Nationals’ uniform — a point Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said there was “no question” about — and his first complete game shutout since June 30, 2009, when he was a member of the Colorado Rockies.
“Pitching controls the game,” Riggleman said. “And he was in complete control tonight.”
The right-hander, who said he’s kept “a few” game balls from his 11-plus years in the big leagues, had Friday night’s sitting in his locker after the game.
“I was keeping them off balance,” Marquis, who emphasized the work he’s done to become a more consistent strike-thrower, said. “Pushing and pulling the string with the fastball and my offspeed stuff. The defense did an unbelievable job for me tonight, making plays, turning some double plays. … I just felt like I had command of all my pitches and was able to throw them in any count.”
After his second start of the season — a nine-strikeout performance — Marquis mentioned the high strikeout total as a double-edged sword. While the outs were good to get, they were also detrimental to keeping his pitch count low. That wasn’t an issue Friday night.
“He’s throwing strikes and we’re all on our toes out there,” said Nix, who also added a single and gunned down Cody Ross attempting to stretch a single into a double for a key out to lead off the third inning.
“It’s great to see him pitching well and working down in the zone and getting guys swinging on it. I looked on the scoreboard and he had like 60 pitches after five or six innings.”
Coming on the heels of Livan Hernandez’s eight-inning start on Thursday, the Nationals’ starters, who have gone at least five innings in all 25 games this season, are becoming one of the most consistent units in the National League with a 3.85 ERA. Their offense, on the other hand, has the third-lowest run total in the NL.
“This kind of goes back to why I think most of us were frustrated at the beginning of the season,” Desmond said. “We knew we had our pitching staff … our offense is what was struggling. It feels good to back them up the last two outings. It just goes to show that our pitching staff is a lot better than what people think.”