ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- It’s almost a given that the Phillies will make a few roster moves in the next two weeks. Already 10 games out and in dead last place in a weak NL East, a shakeup is both inevitable and overdue.
For teams in the playoff hunt, pitching is always a commodity this time of year. Back when the Phillies were making a push for the postseason, they bolstered the roster with the acquisitions of guys like Jamie Moyer, Kyle Lohse, Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt.
These days, it’s the Phillies that could be the team that gives up an arm like Lee, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, A.J. Burnett or Jason Marquis.
Wait a second … Jason Marquis?
With an eye to the future, Marquis could figure in prominently with the Phillies’ plans for this season. Signed to a minor-league deal on June 3, just 10 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Marquis has climbed all the way to Triple A Lehigh Valley where he has been nearly unhittable.
Working his way back
In three starts for the IronPigs, Marquis has been charged with one run -- it was an inherited run the bullpen couldn’t hold for him -- in 18 innings with 10 hits and three walks. He also has 18 strikeouts in his 18 innings, which is a new development to Marquis’ repertoire. In 14 big-league seasons, the righty averaged 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings. That climbed to 7.8 whiffs per nine in 27 career games in Triple A, of which he’s pitched just five times since 2003.
He very well could be 3-0 for the IronPigs, considering he left all three of his games without allowing a run.
“I feel like I’m better than I was the last two years,” the veteran big-league pitcher said before Thursday night’s game against Syracuse at Coca-Cola Park.
He should know since there isn’t much he hasn’t experienced in his baseball career. Marquis pitched in the World Series with the Cardinals in 2004 and 2006 and came up through the Braves' system as a highly-touted, first-round draft pick. Marquis was an All-Star in 2009 with the Rockies and has pitched more than 190 innings five times.
Marquis is also a rarity in that he’s pitched in the Major League World Series and the Little League World Series.
“I’m ready. I was ready three weeks ago,” Marquis said. “Maybe when I was a little younger I’d get a little more pissed off [about not getting called up], but I’m down here doing my thing and as you get older you realize that does nothing, so you focus on what you’re trying to accomplish.”
This is a guy coming back from Tommy John surgery?
“I felt like I was past the rehab stage at the end of June,” Marquis said. “I tried to push myself to the limits throughout this whole process and I tried to push myself to where I was a pitcher and not a rehab pitcher. I felt that way mentally and physically since the end of June.”
‘I’m either in the big leagues by the time we say or I go’
A month shy of his 36th birthday, Marquis knows how to pitch. He’s also healthy for the first time in four years. Before undergoing surgery on July 31, 2013, Marquis said he pitched for four years with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. Now that his arm is back together, Marquis not only has his health, but also his velocity has returned.
Marquis rarely cracked 90 mph with his fastball during the last four seasons and figured out ways to be effective for the Nationals, Twins, Diamondbacks and Padres, winning nine games before the All-Star Game twice during that time.
But as soon as Marquis was cleared to start throwing again, he says it didn’t take long to return to his old form from his days with the Braves and Cardinals. Pitching for the IronPigs, Marquis routinely throws his fastball in the 90s. He also pointed out that he has good control of his breaking pitches, which is something that often takes a long time to recover for pitchers coming back from Tommy John.
“I started throwing my breaking ball during this process probably two months earlier than what the throwing program said,” Marquis said. “I talked to the doctor about it and he said, ‘No! Hold up!’ But I threw a bullpen for him during spring training just to show him where I was and how I was feeling. My location on my fastball and slider were all there at an early stage.
“To me it becomes a state of mind more than anything and a trust factor. When it got to the point when the doctor said, ‘Alright, it’s OK to throw a baseball,’ I knew I was healthy.”
For most of his career, Marquis has relied on a sinker and slider during his 18 years in pro ball. Of course the success of those pitches come from his fastball command and he finally has some zip on it.
“My first game back I was sitting 89, 90,” Marquis said. “And I hit 91 five times. That’s the hardest average I’ve thrown in four years.”
Marquis is next scheduled to pitch for Lehigh Valley on Sunday. Since Allentown’s Coca-Cola Park is midway from his home in Staten Island and Philadelphia, friends and family have been able to show up in force for his games.
But will they be able to make the trip down to Philly by the end of the month? Marquis has an out clause in his contract that allows him to leave the organization if the Phillies don’t bring him up to the majors.
“When I signed the contract Ruben (Amaro, Jr.) was clear that I wasn’t here to be a Triple A pitcher or for depth,” Marquis said. “I’m either in the big leagues by the time we say or I go. I don’t want to come off sounding like I’m arrogant, but I’m going to be 36 in August and I’m not sitting around just to pitch in Triple A.”
Chances are he will be pitching in the big leagues very soon.
“I had a goal in my head that I wanted to be back in the big leagues by 11 months. I felt like I could compete in the big leagues in 11 months, but that decision is out of my hands,” Marquis said. “But I know with the heart of all hearts with the way I’ve been pitching over the last three weeks, that gets big-league hitters out.”
Whether he’s getting outs for the Phillies or another big-league team remains to be seen.