With all eyes again on Jason Marquis as the starting pitcher against the Mets Friday night, each and every start he makes through the end of the season will be fraught with wonder and curiosity. Which Jason Marquis will pitch tonight? Will it be the drop-shot sinker ball pitcher who frustrates opposing batters and keeps his infield hopping with ground ball outs, or the batting practice pitcher who seems to enjoy getting his pitches up in the strike zone and out of the park?
After a record of 1-10 since June 15, Marquis suddenly rediscovered his remarkable sinker when he faced the Washington Nationals at RFK Stadium two weeks ago. No question but that Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan were looking for a favorable venue for Marquis' next start and old RFK was perfect. In fact, I found a touch of Tony La Russa's treatment of Yadier Molina earlier in the season in his solution for Marquis.
You might recall that when Molina was batting well below .200 in the first month of the season and those of less patience and eyes for talent were baying for Molina's head, La Russa did exactly the opposite and let Molina bat in a critical situation rather than pinch hit for him. TLR knew that in showing the young catcher that he had confidence in him, Molina's confidence in himself would grow. Although Molina made an out with that at-bat, he would as we all know go on to perform robustly at the plate for the rest of the season.
Now comes Marquis, struggling along with a record of 9-13 (1-7 since the All-Star break), the only Cardinal pitcher with a losing record. He seemed plagued with strong early innings followed by pitches increasingly higher in the strike zone. It was clear that as his confidence waned, he was overthrowing and trying to compensate for his lost sinker. Overthrown sinkers don't sink, rise, curve, or slide. They just sit there begging to be smacked and batters obliged.
Looking for just the right opportunity for Marquis to vex his demons and get his head straight, Mark Mulder's stiff neck obliged. Marquis' next start was moved up to accommodate Mulder's injury, which was Part one of TLR's redemption of Marquis. Historically, sinker ball pitchers tend to do better when they are a little tired. By starting Marquis on three days rest, the Cardinal coaches created just such a situation for him.
The second part of the process was that Marquis would be pitching against
the Nationals, a team that was hot early but wasn't scoring many runs at that
point. The final part of the
equation was that Marquis would be pitching in cavernous RFK Stadium, a football
stadium and poor substitute for a baseball stadium. TLR and Dunc knew that RFK would hold
Marquis' mistakes better than any other ball park in
They were right on all three counts. Marquis pitched a complete game shut-out victory that seems to have rejuvenated his approach to pitching this year. As with Molina, some of the faithful were screaming for his head, or at least that he be traded as soon as possible to be replaced by the impressive Anthony Reyes. As with Molina, La Russa and Duncan found just the right opportunity to express their confidence in the young pitcher and give him the maximum opportunity to right his ship. Marquis responded superbly.
His last outing yielded the same result, a well-pitched complete game
victory that again looked like the young Jason Marquis of old. His second complete game in a row ended
in a 4-1 win over second-place
Is Jason Marquis back? He has a tough outing tonight against a hot pitcher, Jae Seo, who is 7-1 with a 1.79 ERA and 5-0 since returning from a three-month stay in Triple-A. The Mets have the offensive potential to make for a long night if Marquis doesn't keep that sinker dropping down through the strike zone. This will be a good match-up and one that might be indicative if Jason Marquis is really back and ready to help carry this team deep in to the play-offs. If that is the case, my colleague Joe Mammy was right. A fully-competent Marquis is nothing but bad news for potential Cardinal opponents in the playoffs and good news for Cardinal Nation.