The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A team meeting, Patrick Corbin’s strong start and Josh Bell’s blast lift Nats over Phillies

Patrick Corbin delivered seven strong innings to help the Nationals beat the Phillies and snap a four-game losing streak. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Throughout the Washington Nationals’ recent stretch of diminished offensive production, Manager Dave Martinez kept insisting the runs would come. There simply was too much firepower in the retooled lineup for the rut to continue.

Given the outing Nationals starter Patrick Corbin authored Thursday against the Philadelphia Phillies, scoring didn’t much matter, although Martinez’s message to his players the previous night — remain patient and positive at the plate — apparently resonated with Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell in particular.

Each delivered a two-run homer in the first inning to provide Washington all the separation it needed in a 5-1 triumph at Nationals Park on an afternoon when Corbin (2-3) permitted five hits and one run with nine strikeouts and no walks over seven innings.

“He was really good,” Martinez, who held a team meeting Wednesday night following a 5-2 loss to the Phillies, said of his starter. “His slider was the best I’ve seen all year. His slider was really effective, but he threw the ball really well. He made great pitches today. Just what we needed today.”

Josh Bell thought long and hard about social change. In D.C., he's ready to act.

Corbin’s strongest start of the season enabled the Nationals (14-19) to end a four-game slide and avoid a series sweep to an NL East rival. It also provided a welcome jolt to send the club off on a seven-game trip after winning for just the second time in nine games.

Corbin surrendered a leadoff double in the first to Andrew McCutchen, who came around to score on a double-steal. The rest of Corbin’s start featured the left-hander baffling hitters with a slider he used on 49 of 102 pitches, attacking the strike zone with precision and routinely getting ahead in the count.

He allowed three earned runs or fewer for a third consecutive start and did not permit a runner past second after the first inning against the Phillies (20-18). The performance came one start after Corbin gave up three home runs to the New York Yankees in an 11-4 win Friday in the Bronx.

F.P. Santangelo is off the Nats’ broadcast after sexual misconduct allegation

Corbin’s command of his slider had been sorely absent early, especially in his first two starts. He allowed 15 earned runs to start the season, leading to some tinkering with his mechanics over the past month. The payoff has Corbin approaching his form from 2019, when he went 14-7 with a 3.25 ERA.

“Today my finish was a lot better,” Corbin said. “The slider felt normal coming out. I mean, other games it would feel like it here and there. I just thought today I was a lot more consistent with it, which is good. Mechanically things were just a little off early on, and now my body feels great, starting to use my legs, kind of feeling like my old self.”

Corbin hasn’t been the only member of the Nationals studying film in an effort to correct flaws. Bell, for instance, revealed he had roughly three hours of sleep because he had been watching video in the wee hours and discussing swing modifications with hitting coach Kevin Long on Thursday morning.

The adjustments produced dividends immediately when Bell deposited starter Zach Eflin’s first-pitch slider over the right field wall with Juan Soto on first. Bell, one of the Nationals’ highest-profile offseason acquisitions, pumped his fist and exulted as the ball exited for his fourth homer of the season.

“Just to be able to simplify, work through some things mechanically and have it click that first pitch, I was really stoked,” Bell said. “Hopefully I can turn things around here. Obviously not the start I wanted to have, but a lot of baseball still to be played.”

The blast came moments after Schwarber, another notable offseason addition, hit his fourth homer, this one to left field, on a hanging curve with Starlin Castro on first. Castro also partook in the Nationals’ hit parade with a single and double to extend his hitting streak to 11 games, the longest on the club this season.

The early run support allowed Washington’s beleaguered bullpen a bit of room for error, but the combination of Tanner Rainey, Daniel Hudson and Austin Voth backed Corbin’s start with two scoreless innings.

Rainey did encounter some trouble in the eighth by giving up a double to pinch hitter Brad Miller and walking McCutchen, but he induced a flyout to center from second baseman Jean Segura before Hudson entered to strike out Bryce Harper and got Rhys Hoskins to ground out.

Voth worked a perfect ninth one game after closer Brad Hand blew his second save in three appearances and took his second loss over that span, prompting Martinez to issue unequivocal support for his bullpen despite recent travails.

“We talk about it all the time. We get that lead early, we’re pretty good when that happens,” said Martinez, whose club scored at least four runs for just the second time in 10 games. “Our big boys came up, they swung the bats, a couple of home runs. We tacked on another run late, and it was a good day for us.”