Jason Marquis acknowledges ovation leaving scoreless game in eighth inning. (Photo by C. Nichols/Nats News Network)
THE RESULT:  Despite seven strong innings from their starter, the Washington Nationals offense could provide no support whatsoever and they were shut out by Ryan Dempster and the Chicago Cubs 4-0, before 18,344 at Nationals Park.

The loss drops the Nats to 53-74 with 35 games remaining in the season.

It seems like for some of the Nationals, those 35 games can't get by quickly enough.

Veteran starting pitcher Jason Marquis must feel like his season is just starting.  Or starting over, anyway.

His first five starts, marred by injury, were horrendous by all accounts.  Then he spent the better part of two months on the disabled list after surgery to remove "loose bodies" from his pitching elbow.

Upon his return he struggled in his first two starts, but insisted it was just a matter of location and getting his legs underneath of him.

In his last two starts, however, he has looked like the pitcher that garnered an All-Star bid last season for the Colorado Rockies.

Last Friday night against the Philadelphia Phillies he allowed one earned run on four hits and four walks over five innings.  Tonight, he bettered that, going seven shutout innings, allowing just four hits and two walks.

Manager Jim Riggleman debated sending Marquis out for the eighth inning in a scoreless game, but the veteran felt good and strong, so he took the mound -- with a short leash.

Unfortunately, Marquis issued his third walk of the evening -- of the four pitch variety -- to leadoff hitter Tyler Colvin, pinch-hitting for Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (W, 12-8, 3.42).  After a fly ball to the warning track for the first out of the inning, Riggleman lifted Marquis to a loud ovation from the home fans.

Tyler Clippard entered with Colvin on first, but he didn't stay there long.  The rookie outfielder stole second on Clippard's second pitch, and on a 2-2 count, fellow rookie Starlin Castro ripped a double to the left field corner, scoring Colvin easily from second.

Just liek that, Marquis' bid for his first win of the season had vanished.

Two batters later, Aramis Ramirez tacked on his 19th home run of the season, and the competitive portion of the game was over.

Marquis was hung with the loss -- his seventh -- but Clippard played the goat in this one.

Every pitching mistake is amplified these days since the offense is in a collective slump.  The Nats scratched out just two hits off Dempster in his seven innings, a swinging bunt that Ramirez couldn't handle cleanly off the bat of Wil Nieves, and a lined single by Marquis himself.

The team once again finds itself in familiar territory, playing out the string as the season dwindles.  If they don't find some semblance of offense down the stretch, they could be looking at a very long month of September.

THE GOOD:  Marquis, without question.  His perfromance was the only bright spot for the Nationals as they suffered their 17th loss in their last 27 games.  They are 4-13 in their last 17 contests.

THE BAD:  Clippard.  He's allowed 37% of his inherited runners to score this season, and tonight was no different.  He just didn't have it.

THE UGLY:  Adam Dunn went 0-for-4, with three called strikeouts.  It was tough to watch.  Dunn is hitting .192 with an on base percentage of just .300 in August.

THE STATS:  10 Ks, 1 BB, 0-for-4 with RISP, 4 LOB, 1 DP hit into.

NEXT GAME:  Thursday at 7:05 pm against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Jordan Zimmermann makes his 2010 debut against Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter (14-4).

NATS NOTES:  The team announced after the game that they will hold a press conference to introduce OF Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Amateur Draft, Thursday at 5:45 pm at Nationals Park.  The press conference will be broadcast live on MASN and also be shown on the scoreboard at Nats Park.

Nyjer Morgan was suspended by Major League Baseball for seven games for an incident in Saturday night's game in Philadelphia.  Morgan apparently threw a baseball into the stands toward a fan he had "on-going" altercation with, and hit a different patron in the head.  Morgan has appealed and will play pending a hearing.  He refused to comment on the situation after the game, other than to say he was shocked at the suspension.

The team also announced that RHP Collin Balester was returned to Triple-A Syracuse after tonight's game to make room for Thursday's starter, RHP Jordan Zimmermann.  Zimmermann is just 12 months out from ligament replacement surgery in his pitching elbow.

RHP Stephen Strasburg will have the second MRI on his injured arm Thursday, to be performed by team doctors.  The procedure will involve injecting dye into the area to get a better look at the injury.  Strasburg hurt his arm Satruday night against Philadelphia.  After throwing a changeup he winced in pain and shook his arm out, immediately signaling to the bench his discomfort.

And finally, OF Josh Willingham underwent debridement surgery on the meniscus in his left knee on Wednesday.  Team trainer Lee Kuntz described the surgery as a clean-up, and not a repair of a tear.  Willingham will do his immediate post-surgery rehab in D.C. and is expected to make a full recovery, but will be inactive the remainder of the season.