"Knowing he has struggled in August and September, we're spacing him out a little more," Piniella said. "I hope he appreciates it, because that's what we're trying to do to get him to finish nice and strong. I think it's having a positive effect, as opposed to pitching him every five days."
But when Marquis and the bullpen combined to blow a four-run lead in a 13-5 loss to Washington, Piniella was left searching for answers once again.
"I don't have an explanation for it," he said.
Marquis hit a wall in the sixth, leaving him with a 5.09 earned-run average in August. Spacing him out wasn't the answer against the Nationals, and it's unlikely that Marquis "appreciates" pitching on eight days' rest, as he did Friday.
"Any pitcher would tell you they'd prefer to be on a routine, every five days," Marquis said. "If not, then you shouldn't want to be in a rotation. But, hey, that's the luck of the draw. I have to do whatever I have to do to stay in shape and feel like I'm on my five days. I still have to make pitches. I'll do a better job next time."
Derrek Lee and Mark DeRosa hit home runs to help the Cubs to a 4-0 lead as Marquis coasted into the sixth, allowing only two harmless singles through five innings. But he gave up a single and two walks to begin the sixth, and Lastings Milledge's sacrifice fly made it 4-1. After a visit from pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Marquis served up an RBI double to Ronnie Belliard and was lifted.
Neal Cotts walked pinch-hitter Austin Kearns to load the bases again, and Willie Harris unloaded a grand slam to right on a 1-0 pitch to put the Nationals ahead 6-4.
"From my perspective, it was a pretty good ballgame for five innings," Piniella said. "You can't walk three people in the [sixth] inning with leads."
Cotts had stranded 17 of 21 inherited runners before Harris' slam and had thrown five straight scoreless outings before Friday.
"You go out there and compete, and you don't want this to happen," Cotts said. "But it happened, and it's over with."
The Nationals, who came in with the worst record in the majors and ended a 12-game losing streak Thursday night in Philadelphia, kept the pressure on. They added a run off Bob Howry in the eighth and pounded Chad Gaudin for six runs in the eighth and ninth, including Harris' second home run.
"We got beat up today," Piniella said. "They swung the bats after that fifth inning. They hit the ball all over the park and out of it."