Originally created 03/06/02

Marquis seeking the zone

FT. MYERS, Fla. -- If you insist on measuring Jason Marquis by his walks, then he suggests you score him like a figure skater.

Throw out the high and low numbers, and judge him by his average.

"Walks is where I got in trouble last year, but I'm not going to worry about walking people," he said after giving up three hits and three walks in 1 1/3 innings in Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox at City of Palms Park. "Wildness is not a concern of mine. (Today) was a product of overthrowing, that's all it was."

There was nothing wrong with Marquis' velocity. But his radar needed adjusting. He threw 42 pitches, just 21 for strikes, a sharp contrast to Red Sox starter Pedro Martinez, who threw 21 of 29 pitches in the strike zone during two scoreless innings.

Marquis remained unconcerned about his command. But following a season in which he walked 59 batters in 129 1/3 innings, displaying erratic control in his first start of the spring doesn't suggest he has a handle on the problem.

"I'm a little upset. I wish I had gone out and done a little better job," he said. "The first time out you're real anxious and real jumpy. There's a tendency to overthrow when you're a little excited."

Marquis was scheduled to work two innings, but his rapidly mounting pitch total forced manager Bobby Cox to bring in Damian Moss early. Cox, who said Marquis was bothered by a mild case of triceps tendinitis early in camp, was happy with Marquis' velocity.

"I was thrilled with the way he threw," Cox said. "Just to see it come out the way it did. He had his old stuff back."

If Marquis can find the strike zone consistently, he'll be a 15-game winner. He has three quality pitches, throws a fastball in the high-90s, and limited opposing batters to a .234 average last year, better than Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. His stuff is tantalizing, but walks are killing him.

"I just got to retune everything and get it down in the zone," Marquis said.

Marquis, 23, has demonstrated he can pitch here. In his first major league start last year, he pitched six shutout innings against the Dodgers, and as a last-minute starter for John Burkett, he had 13 strikeouts against the Brewers.

But he went 1-5 with five no-decisions during a span from June 29-Sept. 21, though he had a 2.90 ERA over that stretch. Blame the hitters. The offense averaged just 3.1 runs for him in his 16 starts.

Marquis won just four of 10 decisions as a starter, but posted an impressive 3.26 ERA, leading to the club's decision to dump Burkett and hand the No. 4 starter's job to him.

"His control is going to be fine," Cox said. "I'm not worried about that."

If Marquis can harness the strike zone, he'll answer one of the team's most pressing questions: Who will eventually replace Maddux as the team's ace?

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.


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