There's a certain school of thought, let's call it the Boswell Delusion, that says that the Washington Nationals would have been a winning team all this time if only they had gone out and spent on free agents like Alfonso Soriano, Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand, Barry Zito, and Jason Marquis.
Oops. Turns out, while draft picks aren't a sure thing, neither are free agents. And Marquis through at least three starts is turning out to be quite a bit less than the Nationals were expecting when they handed him the fourth richest contract signed by any starting pitcher this past off season.
By now you surely have heard that Marquis got absolutely massacred today by the Milwaukee Brewers, allowing seven earned runs, on four hits, a walk, and two HBPs. In case you were wondering it was the 16th time since 1920 ("the Retrosheet Era") that any pitcher has allowed seven or more earned runs in a start without recording an out.
Now, I'm not a big fan of Marquis. Even when he's been "good," his K rates were awful, and coming off a career year he seemed a poor bet for anything but a major regression. I said going into the off-season that the free agent SPs I would have targeted were Joel Piniero, Jon Garland, Jarrod Washburn, Jarrod Washburn and Braden Looper. (By the way, those last two guys are still looking for contracts.)
Still, I thought it was a reasonable signing given the cost of free agent pitching and the need for a veteran innings-eater or three. I didn't think we'd be seeing unfavorable comps to Daniel Cabrera, that's for sure.
In fairness to Marquis, Riggleman had a really quick hook today. No question, especially for the three-batter sequence from Braun to McGehee, Marquis looked terrible. He was overthrowing badly, leaving his sinker up in the zone, and generally looking totally out of whack. Overall, he threw 28 pitches and just 13 strikes.
Still, he only threw 28 pitches. And in fact, he actually looked like he was starting to find himself during Jim Edmonds at bat, hitting his spots with a sinker-change-slider combination to get ahead 0-2. Then he bizarrely threw a curveball, a pitch he hardly ever throws, and hit the left-handed Edmonds in the foot. I watched the replay twice on MLB.tv to try to figure out if Marquis shook off a sign there, since the pitch selection was so bad, but I couldn't tell. Then Greg Zaun went the other way on a 3-2 sinker on the outside corner that wasn't a terrible pitch, and Marquis was done, leaving the bases loaded and the Brewers up 4-0 with no outs.
Miguel Batista of course did the rest of the damage, including giving up the grand slam to the corpse of Craig Counsell, who wasn't much of a player in his prime and came in batting .077 for the year.
You certainly can't blame Riggleman for pulling a pitcher who faced 7 batters and gotten none out, but it still unusual treatment for a veteran pitcher routinely referred to as the clear-cut #2 in the rotation. You wonder whether Riggleman was in his "send a message" mode or if he was looking for an excuse to let everyone in the bullpen pitch (he apparently talked enough about that to generate a news brief in the Post this am about the Nationals' "overrested" bullpen).
That's a situation where you'd like to see the veteran pitcher work through his mechanical issues and maybe bounce back to give you 3-4 innings. You see it all the time around the league where a guy just loses his release point for a stretch and then suddenly finds it again and looks ok for a bit.
If Riggleman really thought that he had a better chance of winning by asking his bullpen to go nine than he did letting Marquis work through it, you wonder if the team has already started to change it's view of Marquis, and if he's at risk of getting send down to work it out in the sticks. Something to watch, anyway.
BTW--this is a hilarious new degree of absurdly positive spin for the headline writers at Nationals.com. Oh, but remember, "this story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs."