Neither description was good for Patrick Corbin and the Washington Nationals. That has been a theme this year. As Washington dropped its third straight game, 6-0, the worst season of Corbin’s career continued. His final line was stuffed with nine hits, six runs (five earned), three walks and five strikeouts in four innings. He yielded two homers to bump his total to 36, the highest in the majors. His ERA moved from 5.98 to 6.11.
“Just the way that my season has gone,” Corbin said of this start. “I think I was max effort the entire game, just really try to throw the perfect pitch and end up missing my spot, yanking pitches, just location, I think. The fastball command wasn’t very good today. Had some good sliders when I did throw them. Had a couple swings and misses for strike three on those, but it just comes down to fastball command, which hasn’t really been consistent.”
This time, as in other times, the damage started right away. On Corbin’s second pitch, a middle-in sinker, Garrett Hampson crushed a double off the wall in center. On his next pitch, a slider near the heart of the plate, Brendan Rodgers lifted an opposite-field homer to right. On Corbin’s eighth pitch, a change-up on the outer half, C.J. Cron ripped a single. And on his 11th, a 2-0 sinker, Elías Díaz punched a double.
The deficit was 3-0 after one inning. It grew to 6-0 on Trevor Story’s three-run shot in the fourth, a looping homer that left Juan Soto craning his neck toward the Nationals’ bullpen. The offense, blanked by Rockies starter Kyle Freeland for six innings, logged eight hits. Washington loaded the bases in the sixth, teasing a comeback, before Ryan Zimmerman tapped into a double play and Yadiel Hernandez struck out.
But Corbin again hogged the unwanted spotlight. At the start of September, Manager Dave Martinez paired Corbin with veteran catcher Alex Avila, hoping a familiar voice and glove could jolt the 32-year-old left-hander. Their first game together was a small step forward, with Corbin yielding three runs on a season-high 11 hits in seven innings against the New York Mets. Their next outing, against the bottom-feeding Pittsburgh Pirates, was even better: seven more innings, four hits, two runs and two walks. Then Saturday was another dud.
“Maybe I’m out there overthrowing and kind of giving up some location by doing that,” Corbin said, trying to explain the lack of fastball command. “Try to find what’s going to work for me, but today just wasn’t ... I thought I was trying to be too perfect, fell behind, got into some bad counts and really wasn’t locating there. I think, maybe, just the way that the game started, trying to be so perfect there and kind of got my pitch count up high instead of attacking in the zone and not trying to overdo things.”
A main concern with Corbin — or one of them — is that the problems haven’t been fully identified. That shortcoming is shared among Corbin, pitching coach Jim Hickey and his catchers (though Yan Gomes, his usual battery mate, now plays for the Oakland Athletics). And there are also members of the video, scouting and analytics staffs who, in theory, should contribute to fixing a starter in the third season of a six-year, $140 million deal.
In the end, though, Corbin has the ball and has to execute. His slider is far from the weapon it was in 2018 and 2019. His fastballs, a sinker and four-seam, have been sitting ducks despite having their usual velocity. No pitcher has allowed more earned runs this season.
For most of the second half, Martinez has had a simple ask with Corbin. He wants him to finish the year strong, building momentum toward a winter throwing program and, eventually, spring training in February. The manager has wished the same for reliever Tanner Rainey, who was recalled from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings on Saturday. Rainey wasn’t asked to pitch; the final five innings were handled by Ryne Harper and Sean Nolin. But the hope now, for players such as him and Corbin, is that two weeks is enough to shift the tone of down seasons.
A small group of returning veteran pitchers — Corbin, Rainey, Stephen Strasburg, Joe Ross, Will Harris — have to get better or healthy (or both). And because Corbin’s struggles are not tied to any overt physical issues, he remains the largest question mark.
“Moving forward, we need him to start,” Martinez said. “Right now, if you look at 2022, you’re looking at Strasburg coming back, you’re looking at Corbin and some of our young guys. I want to continue to run him out there every five days until this is over. See if we can get something going.”