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Patrick Corbin is solid, but Nationals don’t support him against Mets

Mets 4, Nationals 2

Mets catcher James McCann tags out Washington's Yadiel Hernandez, who was waved home to try to score in the fourth inning. (Alex Brandon/AP)
6 min

One day you’re in Rochester, N.Y., putting together a strong case to get promoted, and the next you’re at Nationals Park, trying to grip a two-run lead against a first-place team. This was Carl Edwards Jr.’s point of view Tuesday night. This could soon be any number of relievers — young, old, middle-aged by baseball’s standards — if the Washington Nationals keep cycling guys through their bullpen, looking for fits.

Here was just the start of Edwards’s turn, and it didn’t go so well in a 4-2 loss to the New York Mets.

“I’m one of those guys where ... it’s my first outing,” Edwards said after the Mets tagged him with three runs in the sixth inning. “I wish it could have been perfect, but it is what it is. I do know one thing, and one thing that’s a fact: It won’t happen again.”

The right-hander entered after Patrick Corbin logged five scoreless innings on 86 pitches. Pete Alonso, J.D. Davis and Starling Marte were due up. Edwards, 30, hadn’t pitched in the majors since June, but he earned a call by yielding one run on three hits in 14⅓ innings for the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings. His cutter velocity ticked back into the mid-90s. The Nationals are hoping to capture a bit of what once made him such a trusted reliever for the Chicago Cubs.

And they still could. But in his first test with Washington, Edwards exited with the scoreboard flipped. Alonso and Davis began the sixth with back-to-back singles. After striking out Marte, Edwards walked Eduardo Escobar to load the bases. So when Jeff McNeil smoked a one-hopper at first baseman Josh Bell — and when Bell, vision blocked by the runner in front of him, couldn’t make a tough play — two Mets came home. Then catcher James McCann followed with a sacrifice fly to right, giving New York the lead.

Before that rally, Corbin limited the Mets to three hits and walked four. Five strikeouts and no runs allowed were encouraging signs. Some lapses in command, and some good luck on hard-hit balls, were not. But working with Riley Adams, his new personal catcher, Corbin got eight called strikes on fastballs, a key to reestablishing his formerly dominant slider.

The slider has always needed to play off heat at the bottom of the zone. For stretches Tuesday, the Mets were handcuffed because Corbin found that. The Nationals’ bats, on the other hand, were not a complement. Neither was Edwards in the sixth.

“Fastball command inside on the four-seamer was just a little off today. ... I think that’s why I just got in some bad counts,” Corbin said. “Other than that, I made some pitches when I needed to in a couple jams that I did locate pretty well, so I’m happy with that.”

The Nationals (10-21) struck first with third baseman Maikel Franco’s RBI double in the fourth. On that hit, third base coach Gary DiSarcina pushed for a second run, sending Yadiel Hernandez despite his lack of speed. A strong relay by New York — center fielder Brandon Nimmo to second baseman McNeil to McCann — nailed Hernandez by at least five steps at home plate.

An inning later, Adams skied a solo homer to the left field seats. Yet Washington did nothing else against Mets starter Carlos Carrasco, who lasted 6⅔ innings before the bullpen took over.

In the eighth, Juan Soto chased Joely Rodríguez’s first pitch, an inside change-up with a man on, and popped up, ending the inning. The Mets (21-10) tacked on an unearned run against Erasmo Ramírez in the next half. A throwing error from Franco helped them along.

Manager Dave Martinez had tapped Edwards to protect a lead and then Ramírez to record six outs and keep a slim deficit in place. His best relievers, Tanner Rainey and Kyle Finnegan, never pitched.

“We’re still in the sixth inning. I mean, we still got a lot of game left,” Martinez explained of deciding when to use his go-to relievers (or not). “I had Rainey warming up [in the eighth] in case we tied the game or we go ahead. Finnegan threw [25 pitches Sunday], said he was a little [sore] today, so we tried to stay away from him. So there’s a lot of things going on.”

How does Adams catching Tuesday affect the rest of the week? By pairing Adams with Corbin again, Martinez set up Adams to start Thursday afternoon, too, assuming Washington would follow the usual template of having different catchers play in any day/night turnaround. But not so fast.

On Tuesday, Martinez noted how Keibert Ruiz, 23, is young enough to handle the second and third games of the series against New York. He is the everyday catcher and a notably better hitter than Adams. Adams, though, has been identified as a good partner for Corbin, whose numbers have improved with him behind the plate.

Before this loss, Adams had only caught Corbin in day/night turnarounds, when it was easy for Martinez to plug in the backup. The Nationals generally wouldn’t want to sit Ruiz for two of three against a tough divisional opponent. Martinez just feels Ruiz’s age makes it so they won’t have to.

What are Corbin’s season stats with Adams behind the plate? Four starts, 24⅓ innings, 16 hits, seven earned runs (for a 2.61 ERA), nine walks and 20 strikeouts. Since getting rocked against the San Francisco Giants on April 22, Corbin has lowered his ERA from 11.20 to 6.06, mostly throwing to Adams in that stretch.

How did the Nationals make room for Edwards? To fit him on the active roster, reliever Andrés Machado was optioned to Rochester. To clear space on the 40-man roster, the club put reliever Mason Thompson on the 60-day injured list with right biceps tendinitis, meaning he can’t return before mid-June.

Martinez hadn’t found many situations for the 29-year-old Machado of late. The righty pitched in one of nine games during the Nationals’ recent road trip (on April 30). He has mostly floated between being a multi-inning arm, of which the Nationals have many, and a high-leverage reliever, of which they have a few better options. Now Machado will try to fight his way back.

Why was Alcides Escobar scratched before first pitch? He had an infection under the nail on his left index finger. In his place, Dee Strange-Gordon started at shortstop and batted seventh. Martinez told reporters that Escobar will be reevaluated Wednesday.