HOUSTON -- St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jason Marquis could be miffed at what could be considered a demotion, being "bumped" to Sunday's Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Houston Astros.
A 15-game winner skipped over? Hmmm.
The obvious, black-and-white reason to be pushed back was the four-year veteran's poor performance vs. Los Angeles in Game 2 of the NLDS, when the right-hander lasted 3 1/3 innings, was roughed up for three homers and sported an 8.10 ERA.
Then Marquis was slated for Sunday's contest at Minute Maid Park, meaning he'd only pitch one game in the series. Does he believe manager Tony La Russa sent a message to the 26-year-old hurler?
"My initial reaction ... any time it's considered somewhat of a demotion, you're going to be disappointed because your competitive nature wants to go out there and help your team win," said Marquis. "But it was nothing more than that. Anything to help this ballclub win, I'm all for."
No hard feelings, says Marquis, and none even if the Cardinals march into the World Series and he's in the bullpen, it won't matter.
Sunday's game, though, does indeed matter more than ever. With Houston winning, 5-2, in Game 3, the Cardinals still hold a 2-1 lead in the series, and would love to stretch it to 3-1.
For his part, Marquis would love to get his control refined, get his mechanics straightened out and pitch as he did in the regular season -- power and poise and pinpoint accuracy.
"I don't think getting bumped means I have anything to prove," said Marquis. "I want to build on what went wrong in my last outing. I'm just excited to get out there tomorrow and show that I'm able to perform at this level."
La Russa is confident the young pitcher will bounce back and says the "bump" was partially due to conditions at Minute Maid Park.
"If Jason pitches a good game, he's going to get a lot of balls on the ground. In a ballpark here that is reachable, left-to-right field, more groundballs, better you have to win. So that was a real big factor.
"Next time he pitches, different pitcher. He's a smart guy, willing to learn and he's got talent, so I'm sure there was something he pulled out of it. What's going against him is he's got a nice lineup to go against, so he's going to have to be sharp."
Jason Marquis / P
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: R
Marquis admittedly was off-target against the Dodgers, but worked hard in the bullpen since then to refine his techniques and slow down his tempo, despite the pressure and importance of the series.
"I think it was more pitch selection why I got hurt," said Marquis. "I fell behind in the counts on my cutter. But I'm going to pound the strike zone and throw good quality pitches in the zone."
During the regular season, Marquis led the Redbirds to two victories over Houston, winning a 2-1 verdict with a strong seven-inning performance in Texas, and allowing four runs in a 10-4 win in St. Louis.
Against the Astros on Sept. 16, however, he struggled over six frames, giving up seven runs in five hits.
For whatever reason, Marquis had trouble down the stretch, going 1-3 with one no-decision in his last five games.
"You're always going to be nervous and excited," said Marquis as Game 4 approached. "I don't think the time off really plays a factor. My main goal is to get to the World Series, and if that means getting the ball two times, three times or five times, I'm willing to do it."
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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