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St. Louis’ Marquis Finally Sparkles

From Associated Press

Jason Marquis was the latest beneficiary of the Washington Nationals’ propensity for making mediocre pitchers feel good and look good. He was also the beneficiary of Mark Mulder’s stiff neck.

Facing the worst offense in the majors, Marquis morphed from unwatchable to unhittable Saturday, snapping a seven-start losing streak by throwing the first shutout of his career to lead the St. Louis Cardinals past the Nationals, 6-0, at Washington.

He gave up two singles, didn’t walk a batter, and struck out three in improving to 10-13 and lowering his earned-run average from 4.67 to 4.42. Since July 20, he had been 0-7 with a 7.24 ERA.

“When you go through a streak like that, you start doubting yourself,” said Marquis, pushed up a day in the rotation because of Mulder’s stiff neck. “You start changing your game plan and start to be a little too tentative. You stop being aggressive in the strike zone. You start trying to make perfect pitches on the black and fall behind on the count.”

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That was never a problem Saturday in what was probably a new low for the Nationals. It was the seventh time they’ve been shut out, but the first time they managed fewer than three hits. And they never tried to mix things up, with a bunt, say, or by taking extra pitches. Marquis needed only 91.

“We didn’t really string anything together and put pressure on him,” said outfielder Marlon Byrd, who had a two-out single in the sixth. “He got real comfortable, settled in.”

While the Cardinals have the best record in baseball, the Nationals are struggling in the NL wild-card standings. They’ve won at least two games in a row only twice since the All-Star break and dropped from first to last in the NL East.

The reason is the lack of offense. Washington began the day last in the big leagues in batting average (.253), slugging percentage (.390), and runs (505). Only one position player on the roster is hitting above .300: Jose Guillen, who went hitless in three at-bats and dropped to .301.

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“I just can’t figure this team out. I really can’t,” Manager Frank Robinson said.

The Cardinals scored four runs in four innings off Matt White (0-1), who was called up to make his first start in the majors and sent right back to triple-A New Orleans afterward.

David Eckstein drove in one of those runs, then added a two-run homer in the seventh off Mike Stanton.


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