- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2011

HOUSTON — Sunk into the left-field wall at Minute Maid Park is the visiting team’s bullpen. For the Nationals on Monday night, it may as well have been empty.

With Washington’s relievers taxed for nearly 250 pitches since the All-Star break ended, including 123 on Sunday in 6 2/3 innings, the Nationals desperately needed starter Jason Marquis to pitch well – and deep into the game.

Asked about the status of his bullpen before the Nationals’ 5-2 victory over the Houston Astros, manager Davey Johnson stated bluntly that it was in “shambles.” No fewer than three of his relievers were unavailable, if not four.

“On the airplane coming here, I said (to Marquis) ‘I just need nine out of you, that’s all,’ ” Johnson said. “He didn’t give me nine, but he gave me a pretty good eight.”

Marquis held up his end of the bargain. He went eight innings, allowing two runs, and struck out nine for the fourth time in his career.

“It was a nice change of pace for us,” said closer Drew Storen, who struck out the side in the ninth for his 25th save. “The less that phone rings, the better. That’s going to come up huge for us in the next couple of days.”

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman hit a game-tying homer in the seventh and a go-ahead single in a three-run ninth, giving Marquis all the offense he would need.

“As many good games as he’s pitched and we haven’t come through, it was good for him to get a win today,” said left fielder Laynce Nix, who delivered a two-run single in the ninth.

The Nationals were no-hit through four innings by 20-year old Jordan Lyles, a rookie making his ninth career start and searching for his first win.

First baseman Michael Morse changed all of that leading off the fifth when he crushed his 16th homer on a first-pitch curveball from Lyles high and far to left.

“That thing was 450 feet if it was an inch,” Johnson said somewhat incredulously.

Two innings later, Zimmerman followed suit, sending his fifth just over the wall in right field to tie the game 2-2 and give Marquis new life.

Lyles left after 8 1/3 innings when Zimmerman’s single scored Roger Bernadina for a 3-2 lead. Laynce Nix then added his bases-loaded single.

Marquis’ blemishes came in the fifth and sixth when he allowed the leadoff man to reach and surrendered an RBI double each time. The right-hander had averaged just four innings and compiled an 8.03 ERA over his previous three starts.

Marquis left after 102 pitches, working around a leadoff single in the eighth to speedy Michael Bourn to keep the game deadlocked at 2.

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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