WASHINGTON, D.C. — He blitzed the National League’s heftiest slugger with 99 mph high heat, as if, at 22 years old, German Marquez has not yet figured out who to fear.
The Rockies right-hander, whose knees long ago stopped shaking in nervousness on the mound, flew through a hard-hitting Nationals lineup Saturday for more than five perfect innings. Marquez plopped down the first 16 batters he faced, including Bryce Harper on four whipped pitches in the fourth inning.
And the rookie from Venezuela willed the Rockies out of a nasty road funk, leading them to a 4-2 victory at Nationals Park, just their fourth in the last 20 away from Coors Field.
Marquez added another promising outing to a season that will set him up in a burgeoning career and, perhaps, carry him in an evolving rotation toward the postseason.
“This was very, very important,” Marquez said. “We’re in the thick of things.”
Marquez became just the seventh Rockies pitcher in 25 years to get through at least five perfect innings.
The Rockies (59-45) snapped a three-game slump that skidded them through St. Louis last week and they lobbed a volley back at one of the best teams in the NL, a Nationals squad (61-40) that had demolished Colorado for 46 runs in four April days.
“They hit eight home runs the other day too,” first baseman Mark Reynolds said. “We have to grind these games out. We need all these young pitchers we have to step up.”
Marquez, one of four rookie starters Colorado is using in an excessively young rotation, strode through seven imposing innings, never retreating from a lineup with the best offensive slash line in the NL. His career-high 10 strikeouts, against no walks, included whiffs of Harper twice, both on high fastballs, at 99 mph in the fourth and 98 in the sixth, both to end an inning.
He also sank a curveball to set down Adam Lind in the sixth after falling behind the count at 3-0, then rallying through a 10-pitch at bat. Lind was locked in. Marquez boldly buried the final breaking pitch at his feet.
“We have a lot of confidence in our guys on the bump. That showed tonight. Marquez was awesome,” shortstop Trevor Story said. “His stuff was electric. It looked like it was flying out of his hand.”
Marquez was perfect through 16 batters. Matt Wieters finally broke apart his no-hit bid with a solid single to left field. But as the Nationals followed with a double from newly acquired pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick and a two-run single to left from Wilmer Difo, Marquez came back for his second strikeout of Harper to end the threat.
Harper carried a 19-game hitting streak into Saturday. Marquez helped snuff it out. He spun a pirouette and pounded his glove in celebration.
In May, Marquez approached an outing in Denver with similar aplomb. He kept the Cubs hitless through six innings that day, with a fastball-curveball combo that was still in its infancy. By Saturday in D.C., Marquez graduated to efficiency.
He threw just 48 pitches in the first four innings while only two balls reached the outfield. His 99 pitches through seven innings resulted in just three hits and two runs.
“I feel more confident now, more experienced,” Marquez said. “We were facing one of the best teams in baseball. I have to step up.”
The Rockies offense met Marquez in kind. Story‘s two-strike home run to right field in the second inning scored Carlos Gonzalez for an early 2-0 lead. Story’s 15th homer was his third in five games. In the fifth, the Rockies hopped on Washington starter Tanner Roark for consecutive doubles, from Gerardo Parra to left field and Mark Reynolds to right. Both hits scored runs and the Rockies led 4-0.
As the Rockies creep toward Monday’s trade deadline, having already acquired right-handed reliever Pat Neshek in a trade last week with Philadelphia, they added a reason for ambition by opening a rain-delayed weekend series with a sound victory over the NL Central leaders.
Neshek pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning in his Rockies debut, with two groundouts and a four-pitch strikeout of pinch-hitter Pedro Severino. Then closer Greg Holland, having returned from the birth of his daughter Thursday, struck out the side in the ninth.
“It’s nice to come in and know you’re in a playoff race,” Neshek said. “You saw some emotion from me because this is a big game. If we’re gonna make the playoffs, that’s who we’re going to face, a team like the Washington Nationals.”