DENVER — On Monday, Germán Márquez walked off the mound after the fifth inning for the last time this season.
His face was solemn. His final start will be remembered for the missed locations and four earned runs the Nationals hit off him. His final ERA is 4.40, his second-highest in a full season.
“I didn’t feel like everything was easy,” he said. “I know baseball is up and down, but I want to feel like the whole year I’m in the middle.”
The Rockies, meanwhile, lost their fifth straight game at home, this one 5-4 to the Nationals. Ryan McMahon drove in three runs off a double in the sixth.
It was the fourth inning that hurt Márquez. Alcides Escobar hit a slider down the middle, then Márquez hit Josh Bell with a pitch and gave up another hit on his slider to Yadiel Hernandez. Keibert Ruiz walked with the bases loaded to score one run, then Luis Garcia knocked another hit to drive in two more runs.
"His stuff was reading out fairly normal, but there might not be the crispness to it," manager Bud Black said. "Over the last six weeks, there's been an inability to minimize the damage in an inning."
Márquez showed flashes of brilliance this season, tempting his team to classify him as their ace. He almost threw a no-hitter at the end of June, then pitched in the All-Star Game a few weeks later. He had a 2.86 ERA in 11 starts in June and July.
But this season will also be remembered for the inconsistencies. The beginning of the season was marked by his lack of fastball command, the end by his troubles with his slider. He had a 6.75 ERA in August and ended the season with a 6.38 ERA for September.
"He's a horse, he'll learn from this," Black said.
There’s also the added factor of pitching close to 200 innings, after only 82 a year ago because of the pandemic-shortened season. Márquez is the only pitcher in the Rockies' rotation who played the entire season. The others missed at least three starts each with injuries. Before Monday’s games, Márquez ranked 10th in major league baseball for total innings pitched.
"I think it got me," he said. "No excuse, but I felt a little tired."
Márquez plans to stay in Denver for the offseason, to continue to work on his delivery. They made another adjustment between his last start and Monday night — he is now trying to lift his front leg up across his body, instead of straight, to force himself to slow down. They spent the first month of the season timing his windup from first to last move, and came up with a set range for him to hit every time.
He doesn't know what his workouts will look like this offseason, but plans to have a sit-down soon with the coaches. The most important thing is to make sure he's not only ready at the start of the season, when he'll be in the running to start on opening day for the third year in a row, but to make it through another 180-inning season.
"To me, it was an amazing year," he said. "One month can't be the whole season. I learned from this year. Next year is going to be amazing."