"I don't know what he was doing today," La Russa said. "He's out there just firing. I don't know what got into him. He was out there just rearing back, throwing as hard as he could. I'm not sure why he thought that was the way to go about it."
Tuesday night was just another chapter in Marquis' inconsistent 2006 season. He won his first three games, lost his next four, won his next five, and now has lost four of his last five outings.
"No, not really," Marquis said when asked if he agreed with his manager's assessment. "[I] didn't make good pitches. ... That's what it came down to."
It usually only takes an inning to tell if the Cards right-hander has his best stuff working. In his 12 wins, opponents are batting .186 against him in the first inning.
But when he loses, the opposition hits .486. And Tuesday, Marquis allowed a run on three sharp singles in the opening frame.
"I just know that we need him better and more consistent," La Russa said. "He's capable of it. ... I really don't know how to explain it."
In his last four losses, Marquis has a 12.10 ERA.
"Doing a little too much thinking instead of relying on my good stuff," Marquis said when asked for a cause of his struggles. "Trying to be a little bit too fine with everything. Put myself in bad counts."
One day after scoring 13 runs on 17 hits, the St. Louis bats went cold against Reds starter Eric Milton, who allowed two runs -- one earned -- on five hits over six innings pitched. Milton improved to 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in two starts against the Cardinals this season.
"He was mixing his pitches," Cardinals second baseman Ronnie Belliard said of Milton. "Kept guys off balance."
The Reds left-hander had some help behind him, however. The Cardinals trailed, 4-1, with runners on first and second and no outs in the the fifth. Albert Pujols hit a shot to right-center field. But what would have been a two-run double was instead caught by a diving Freel, who nearly went headlong into the wall. The Cards would go on to score a run on an RBI single by Scott Spiezio, but that would be all.
"That was a great catch and it had a big impact on the game," La Russa said. "Given the circumstances, it makes it even finer."
The Cardinals bullpen didn't fare much better than Marquis. Five relievers allowed five runs -- four earned -- on eight hits and four walks. Braden Looper left the game in the eighth inning with a muscle spasm in his back.
Those runs allowed were inconsequential thanks to Marquis' struggles. And although the pitching staff generally goes over every start with the coaches, Marquis' might be more pivotal to solving his growing problems.
"We're going to talk to him, [but] we aren't going to talk to the press about it," La Russa said. "You can't see a struggle like that and not try to identify what's going on. That's just part of getting better."
With Mark Mulder expected to return to the rotation sometime next week and the Cards' lead in the National League Central now down to 3 1/2 games over the second-place Reds, changes in the starting rotation might be in store.
"After the day off [Monday], we'll talk about the pitching [staff]," pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "We'll get Mulder back, so that's when we'll have to make a decision."