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Jayson Werth is tagged out by catcher Carlos Corporan in the ninth inning.
1. MARQUIS' STOCK GOES UP
From a competitive standpoint, the Nationals couldn't have gotten a better performance out of Jason Marquis than they did last night: eight innings of two-run ball, saving a bullpen that had been maxed out over the weekend in Atlanta.
From a long-term-planning standpoint, they couldn't have asked for anything more, either.
It's no secret each of Marquis' starts these days carries significant weight, with the July 31 trade deadline looming and scouts from across the majors chronicling his every move. Marquis' stock had perhaps taken a slight tumble before the All-Star break, especially when he was ravaged by the Pirates July 3 for seven runs in 1 1/3 innings.
But the veteran right-hander has gotten back on track his last two times out, authoring back-to-back quality starts. For the season, he's now 8-4 with a 3.92 ERA. His 12 quality starts rank second on the Nationals' staff (behind only Jordan Zimmermann's 14). His 1.97 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the best of his career.
Is Marquis the missing piece that will turn a contending club into a championship club? Probably not. But he'd be an upgrade in the No. 4 or No. 5 slot in a lot of rotations right now (Boston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Arizona all come to mind as possible fits) and Mike Rizzo needs to strike while the iron is hot.
With Chien-Ming Wang on the verge of joining the rotation after two years of rehab on an injured shoulder, the Nationals need to clear a slot anyway. If you're Rizzo, sell high on Marquis.
2. WERTH COMPOUNDING HIS STRUGGLES
If you were watching the ninth inning of last night's game, you saw clutch hits from both Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse, putting the Nationals on top for good. You also saw an inexplicable act of baserunning by Jayson Werth, who got caught straying too far off third base on Wilson Ramos' pop-up to short.
As Charlie Slowes might have called it: "What was Jayson Werth thinking?! What was he watching?! Where was he going?!"
Werth's explanation to reporters afterward was that he was trying to get shortstop Angel Sanchez to throw to the plate, a throw that perhaps could have gone off-line and allowed either him to score or Rick Ankiel to advance from first to second base. But in that situation, with his team now up three runs in the ninth, it made no sense.
If it wasn't obvious already, Werth is really pressing, trying too hard to make something good happen to make up for his overwhelming struggles at the plate. And really, that's the worst thing he can do right now.
Look, one aggressive baserunning play isn't going to raise his batting average from .211 to .280. One throw from right field isn't going to raise his OPS in "late and close" situations -- defined by baseball-reference.com as coming in the seventh inning or later with your team tied, ahead by one or at least with the tying run on deck -- from .498 to 1.000.
There's undoubtedly all kinds of stuff running through Werth's head right now. The best thing he could do is block that all out and simply go play baseball the way he has his entire life. He's got the natural ability to do it, but he seems to keep letting his head get in the way.
3. STRASTEMBER LOOKING LIKELY
After Stephen Strasburg threw live BP Wednesday in Viera, I suggested the possibility of a September return to the Nationals was looking more likely for the young right-hander. Well, after he threw a simulated game there yesterday and, according to Davey Johnson, topped out at 95 mph, that looks even more likely.
Strasburg has roughly reached the equivalent of mid-spring training in his progression. Which means he's about five-to-six weeks away from being ready to start a big-league game.
Figure he pitches another simulated game or two in Viera, then heads off on a much-anticipated, minor-league rehab assignment once the calendar shifts to August. He'll have 30 days to complete that rehab assignment, after which the Nats will need to make a decision.
Obviously, plenty can still change between now and then. But at this point, a September return for Strasburg sure looks inevitable.