DENVER -- The last two months of 2021 have harshly reminded Rockies right-hander Germán Márquez that the normal Major League season is long.
Lacking the sharpness and energy that helped him to his first All-Star Game invitation in July, Márquez labored through 90 pitches in five innings, yielding four runs and six hits in a 5-4 loss to the Nationals at Coors Field on Monday night, which extended the club’s home losing streak to a season-worst five games.
The performance left Márquez’s ERA in 10 starts since Aug. 1 at 6.57. Last season, Márquez led the National League at 81 2/3 innings pitched. Of course, that was in the 60-game, COVID-impacted 2020 slate. Back to 162 this year, the 180 innings Márquez has thrown became a cumbersome lift toward the end. Márquez has proven capable of a heavy workload -- 196 innings in 2018, when the club made the postseason -- but many pitchers in the sport have experienced uncommon fatigue in ‘21.
“Last year got me -- it’s no excuse, but I felt a little tired,” said Márquez, who said Monday was his last start of the season. “A hundred more innings got me a little bit, but next year is going to be amazing. I’m going to work on little things that I’ve been battling, my delivery and everything. Next year, me and the whole team is going to be better.”
The Rockies won 14 of Márquez’s 18 home starts. From June 17 to July 20, he went 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA. He held the Pirates hitless until giving up a Ka’ai Tom leadoff single in the ninth on June 29. While the late-season performance didn’t hold, there is value in availability for a Rockies starter.
The Rockies’ 815 2/3 starter innings pitched rank third in the National League. Because Coors Field can produce crazy, bullpen-draining games at random and in bunches, manager Bud Black generally tries to squeeze an extra inning out of his starters at home if their performance warrants. So even though Márquez slowed toward the end of this season, Black will go into next season expecting more durability from him -- and possibly more savvy when he does become tired.
“There are lessons in every season,” Black said. “On the positive, 32 starts -- he went to the post, was durable. That’s what we need out of our starting pitching. These guys have shown the ability to be fairly durable, the ones that have been here since 2017.
“Specifically to Germán, his stuff is reading out fairly normal. But there might not be the crispness to it. That's something that we can see from our critical eye. That's when you have to pitch a little bit. You have to change speeds a little bit more, maybe pitch a little bit backwards.”
Márquez held the Nationals scoreless through the first three innings. But with one out and the bases loaded in the fourth, Márquez went up 0-2 against catcher Keibert Ruiz, but on the eighth pitch of the matchup walked in the first run of the Nationals’ three-run inning.
Luis García knocked in the other two runs on a 93.3 mph four-seam fastball. Márquez averaged 94.9 mph on his heater coming into the game, and when necessary he has reached 97. But his velocity was inconsistent and his breaking pitches were not sharp Monday.
Ryan McMahon’s 30th double of the season, coming with the bases loaded in the sixth, cut the difference to 4-3. The Nats loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth and scored a run off closer Carlos Estévez, who pitched for the first time since being hit on his lower right leg with a line drive on Thursday against the Dodgers. Estévez would escape with a short fly from MVP candidate Juan Soto and a mound-to-home-to-first double play.
C.J. Cron’s two-out RBI double in the bottom of the ninth made it a one-run game again, but McMahon grounded out to end the contest.