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Long balls ruin Patrick Corbin’s day as Nationals fall flat vs. Astros

Astros 8, Nationals 0

Patrick Corbin gave up three home runs in the Nationals' 8-0 loss to the Astros. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Patrick Corbin was just about done cruising through the Houston Astros’ lineup for a second time. All that stood between him and getting back to the top of the order unscathed was Martín Maldonado, the Astros’ No. 9 hitter.

But then Corbin made a costly mistake. His 1-1 pitch, a sinker, caught way too much of the plate — it was one even Maldonado, a .091 hitter entering the at-bat, couldn’t miss. He sent the ball 423 feet into the visitors’ bullpen at Nationals Park for a two-run homer.

It was one of four home runs — including three against Corbin — that the Nationals gave up during their 8-0 loss Sunday afternoon. Yuli Gurriel hit a solo shot into the left field seats in the sixth, Chas McCormick’s two-run homer to center field an inning later ended Corbin’s day, and José Altuve’s ninth-inning solo blast capped the series victory for the Astros (23-12).

“They’re a pretty patient, veteran ballclub, and you have to be on your game against these guys,” Corbin said. “I made a couple mistakes and paid for it.”

Facing Houston ace Justin Verlander, who allowed two hits in five innings, the Nationals (12-24) were shut out for the third time. They have managed just 15 runs in Corbin’s eight starts.

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Before the Maldonado homer, Corbin went toe-to-toe with Verlander. The 32-year-old lefty retired the first three Astros on seven pitches; by the end of the fourth inning, he had retired 12 of the first 15 Astros who came to the plate.

Corbin’s formula was simple: keep the ball low in the strike zone and pitch to contact. But eventually the Astros made him pay for missing high in the zone.

Right before Maldonado’s homer, Corbin attempted to pick off McCormick, who had walked. Josh Bell’s throw to second base sailed wide, and McCormick reached second to put a runner in scoring position.

“The biggest thing was the walk in [the fifth] inning and one pitch right down the middle for a home run,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “And then after that, everything just got up on him. But early on in the game, he was pitching really well.”

Gurriel’s sixth-inning home run — which came on a low slider — was one of three hits Corbin allowed to the Astros’ first baseman. Then Corbin left an 0-1 change-up up in the zone that McCormick teed off on in the seventh. Corbin entered the game having given up one home run all season.

Sunday’s outing showed glimpses of success — as have most of his starts recently. But the long balls marred a performance that certainly could have been better.

“I’m not really discouraged about today,” said Corbin, who was charged with five runs and six hits in six-plus innings while striking out five and walking two. “I felt really good — thought I made some really good pitches. Just a couple that they hit out of the ballpark.”

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What happened in the seventh after Corbin left? Austin Voth gave up three straight singles, then walked Alex Bregman with the bases loaded to give the Astros a 6-0 lead. Voth allowed another run on a Yordan Alvarez double play. He got Gurriel to pop out to end the inning.

How many times have the Nationals been shut out at home? Just twice, with the other coming April 9 against the Mets, a 5-0 defeat. The Nationals had four hits Sunday after mashing 14 on Saturday in a 13-6 win.

Verlander turned in five scoreless innings Sunday, but the Nationals were able to drive up his pitch count. Washington got a runner in scoring position in the first and fifth but couldn’t take advantage.

“We could have got Verlander early, and after that he settled down,” Martinez said. “He was good. He made his pitches when he had to and he threw up zeros, so he was really good.”

How has César Hernández fared from the leadoff spot? Much better of late. Martinez felt Hernández was pressing at the plate early, so he moved him out of the leadoff spot against the San Francisco Giants on April 23. Before that, his batting average was .217 and his on-base percentage was .250. Since that game and entering Sunday, he had batted .317 (25 for 79). He went 0 for 2 on Sunday but walked twice, raising his OBP to .317.

“All I’m trying to do is get on base and help them get some traffic out there,” Hernández said through an interpreter. “Especially with hitters like [Juan] Soto behind me hopefully to take advantage of that.”

What is Alcides Escobar’s status? After sitting out Saturday, Escobar started at shortstop Sunday and went 1 for 3. Martinez said Escobar will take it day by day as he works back to full health after dealing with an infection under the nail of his left index finger.