'Competitor' Márquez bounces back in win 

Cron and Blackmon each homer, helping back Colorado's ace vs. Braves

September 5th, 2021

DENVER -- Rockies right-hander halted and sniffled, the effects of the same cold -- a common one -- that has left manager Bud Black hacking through his media sessions.

Márquez being under the weather but happy enough was so fitting. His five-inning, less-than-shap performance in the Rockies’ 7-6 victory over the Braves at Coors Field was statistically better than it was in reality. It wasn’t the form Márquez flashed earlier this season while earning his first All-Star Game invitation some eight weeks ago, but it’s a step toward his goal of finishing the season off strongly.

Before Saturday, Márquez had been in a four-start slump during which he posted an 8.84 ERA and given up seven home runs across 19 1/3 innings. Throughout Márquez’s downturn, hitters were punishing poor pitches, the product of mechanical mistakes that were born of some mental traps he had set for himself.

Márquez had to address those faults, all while facing the NL East-leading Braves. He was far from perfect. Those five innings required 99 pitches, of which just 57 were strikes.

Yet Márquez gave himself cause for encouragement.

He struck out five against one walk, and just two of the four runs against him were earned. He overcame two unearned first-inning runs that resulted from a fielding error on first baseman C.J. Cron -- who atoned by launching his 26th homer of the season, a leadoff shot in the Rockies’ two-run second inning. After Ozzie Albies homered off Márquez to open the third, he retired six straight batters.

And in the fifth, when his two wild pitches set up Jorge Soler’s single that tied the game at 4, Márquez ended his workmanlike night with a strikeout of Austin Riley.

“I don’t want to make a mistake, but it’s baseball and I’m not perfect,” Márquez said. “But I know what to do. I felt good today, and through the end of the season everything’s going to be coming through.”

Saturday, Márquez needed his teammates to come through. Garrett Hampson's RBI single during a two-run sixth and Trevor Story’s RBI triple in the seventh gave the Rockies the lead. Robert Stephenson replaced Daniel Bard with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth, and let just one runner cross, and Carlos Estévez earned his fifth save even though his scoreless streak ended at 14 games because of Travis d’Arnaud’s one-out pinch-hit homer in the ninth.

It’s possible Márquez is experiencing fatigue. He hasn’t missed a start this year, and entered Saturday with the eighth-most innings pitched (607 2/3) since the start of 2018 and tied for the third most (237 2/3) since the start of 2020. Toward that end, Black said he is looking for opportunities for an extra day’s rest here and there for Márquez.

Any pitcher would like to breeze the way Márquez did during his five-start stretch June 17 to July 10, when he posted a 0.75 ERA and flirted with no-hitters at Seattle on June 23 and at home against the Pirates in a one-hit, 8-0 shutout on June 29. But Black said Saturday was not to be underrated.

“He’s learning that skill, when he’s not at his crispness,” Black said. “That’s part of gaining experience. That’s part of being a Major League starter. In a full season, you get 33-34 starts. They’re all not going to be outstanding starts. There are going to be games -- starts like today -- when you don’t have your best stuff, your best breaking pitch, and you’ve got to be able to work through it.”

Charlie Blackmon, whose two-run shot in the third was his third homer in the last three games, didn’t quarrel with the way Márquez navigated.

“‘Márquee’ is just an incredible competitor,” Blackmon said. “He's able to go out there and be effective, even if he doesn't have his best stuff. But I thought he was pretty good tonight. Well, you know, a couple bad pitches here and there. But I thought he gave us a chance to win, and he drove in a run [on a squeeze bunt in the second].”

The day before his start, Márquez noted that he felt his eagerness was working against him. He said he would use all his keywords and reminders -- “slow down” … “one pitch at a time” … “let it eat” -- all to simplify his thoughts. At times during the slump, thoughts other than the pitch entered, and that led to pitches left uncharacteristically over the heart of the plate.

Saturday, his only mistake of that sort was the Albies homer. He still has to regain his slider and curve, which he bounced far in front of the plate on a few more occasions than he would have liked on Saturday. But he never let the breaking-ball issues lead to walks, and misses in the hitting area were rare.

“My breaking ball was missing,” Márquez added. "My slider has been OK, but I’ve been battling with my slider and with my curveball. But my fastball was good. That gave me a chance.

“I gave us a chance to win, but the guys picked me up.”