Marquez focused on return to form
Right-hander, acquired in Swisher trade, now healthy
CHICAGO -- The prominent lineup of top White Sox talent attending SoxFest next weekend at the Palmer House Hilton does not include Jeff Marquez.
Rarely does a pitcher with a 2-8 record and 9.85 ERA for Triple-A Charlotte, as Marquez produced during a disappointing 2009 campaign, get an invite to this winter first pitch for the upcoming season. But Marquez has his sights set on a 2011 appearance.
Actually, SoxFest isn't on Marquez's to-do list as much as putting himself back on the White Sox pitching radar at Spring Training.
"I'm coming in with the same mentality," Marquez said during a recent phone interview from Sacramento, Calif. "Only now, I feel like I'm healthy."
Although never considered a top-of-the rotation sort of addition, Marquez was a key figure in the Nov. 13, 2008, trade with the Yankees that sent Nick Swisher to New York and also brought back utility infielder Wilson Betemit and reliever Jhonny Nunez. Betemit broke camp with the White Sox but was shipped out following a dismal on-field showing, and the 24-year-old Nunez culminated a solid Minor League season with a 9.58 ERA in limited late-relief duty for the White Sox.
But Marquez had the makings of a fourth or fifth starter and figured to play well at U.S. Cellular Field with the great sinking motion witnessed by general manager Ken Williams and White Sox scouts in the 2008 Arizona Fall League. That same sort of sink rarely materialized during Marquez's first year with the South Siders.
Much of the problem dealt with two bone spurs and a stress fracture in Marquez's pitching elbow, eventually repaired by Dr. James Andrews on July 28. The right-hander felt a little soreness in the back of his elbow while working with Charlotte, and after four starts, went down to Arizona for rehab work in extended Spring Training.
That soreness came back about four or five starts after his return. Finally, Marquez and the White Sox decided it was time to shut it down at the 11-start mark, opting for surgery and getting Marquez ready for 2010 as opposed to having him continue to pitch in discomfort.
"My same velocity was still there, at like 88-to-92 mph," Marquez said. "I was just struggling to keep the ball down and away. Everyone knows that if you keep the ball up, you are going to get hit.
"Unfortunately, it was kind of a bummer of a season. I only threw 45 innings, and no pitcher wants that-- especially as a starter."
It sounds a bit cliché, but the injury might be the best thing to happen to Marquez. His pre-existing high level of confidence has jumped up a notch with his pitches now moving as crisply as he remembered before the surgery, and Marquez has been working out at a physical therapy/training facility that not only has reshaped his arm but made a noticeable, positive change in his conditioning.
Those strong and healthy feelings should enhance Marquez's work once he arrives in Glendale, Ariz., during February. The results on the field will indicate how far Marquez truly has come.
"We are kind of anxious to see the real Jeff Marquez, with the good breaking ball and the heavy sinker," White Sox Minor League director Buddy Bell said. "We never saw him pitch like he did when Kenny Williams and I watched him in the Arizona Fall League, but he never really was healthy."
"His attitude is good, and he's in good shape," said White Sox Minor League pitching coordinator Kirk Champion. "When we will see the real Jeff Marquez, I can't tell you. We are counting on him to be back in the mix, and he certainly is capable."
Marquez and Clayton Richard entered Spring Training 2009 with the edge for the fourth and fifth starter spot as Jose Contreras worked his way back from a ruptured Achilles and Bartolo Colon slowly progressed from offseason surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow. Both Contreras and Colon returned ahead of schedule, ready for the season's outset, with Richard moving to the bullpen and Marquez to the Knights.
That moment in Glendale stood as Marquez's last one of prominence in 2009, with the right-hander now sitting on the team's 40-man roster bubble. Meanwhile, Swisher helped some of Marquez's old friends win the World Series title.
Friends and family members occasionally joke with Marquez about that Swisher trade, but his 2010 target has nothing to do with evening out the value of this particular deal. Marquez looks at the White Sox rotation and sees starters six deep, including Daniel Hudson, but he also knows there's a chance to compete for the final bullpen spot on the staff.
Labels such as long reliever aren't as important to Marquez as simply being able to foster his pitching style for success in a healthy manner once again. The notoriety, or really simple positive attention, could come as an offshoot of this good physical feeling.
"With the trade the White Sox made, I felt they believed in me, and I still feel that way," Marquez said. "It's a matter of getting ready and competing for a spot.
"I like to sink the ball and change speeds as my secondary pitch, keeping the ball down and letting hitters drive it into the ground. I feel like my stuff is going to be a lot better than what it was [before the surgery].
"They will be able to see what they have seen before in the Arizona Fall League," Marquez said. "I'm capable of doing that, and if I do, it will only help me to win a job."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.