LOS ANGELES — Deep in the right-center field gap Wednesday, Juan Soto dropped his head, put his hands on his knees and looked away from the mess unfolding at Dodger Stadium. In the infield, Patrick Corbin was walking to the dugout, thinking he had escaped an already brutal first inning, before he saw a routine flyball land between Soto and Victor Robles.
Corbin slumped his shoulders. He bowed his head. At that moment, could you blame him or anyone else in a Washington Nationals uniform for doing so?
After rushing to the ball, Robles chucked it to second baseman César Hernández, who was late to realize Austin Barnes had rounded third and threw well wide of home plate. The official scorer considered this an RBI double for Gavin Lux in a 7-1 win for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It looked a lot more like a disaster.
“I mean, those plays happen. It’s part of the game,” said Corbin, who failed to complete the first inning for the first time in 250 career major league starts. “They’re out there trying their best, trying to make plays behind me. At the end of the day, I got to be better, make better pitches.”
The Nationals (34-66) entered with a chance for their first sweep of the season — and their first sweep of the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine. Instead, the Dodgers had six runs on seven hits before Corbin was hooked for Erasmo Ramírez with two outs. Lux’s double brought home the final run of the rally. Los Angeles otherwise used two doubles, three singles and a walk to chase Corbin after 45 pitches and end the Nationals’ three-game winning streak.
The lefty wasn’t helped by his defense — or plate umpire Edwin Moscoso after the inning was extended when Will Smith walked on a borderline 3-2 sinker. But the lefty also did little to help his own cause. Too often this season, a missed call or an error has ballooned into loads of damage. Corbin has a 6.49 ERA in 21 starts — up from 6.02 before he threw a pitch Wednesday — and has yielded the most earned runs (76) and hits (149) in the majors.
The next closest in earned runs is Colorado Rockies starter Germán Márquez at 64. The next closest in hits is Baltimore Orioles starter Jordan Lyles at 127.
“He faced 10 hitters, he was behind five of them, and then the guys he got ahead of he just couldn’t put them away,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “That was the big deal right there. He had a lot of pitches, so we had to go get him.”
Behind Corbin, Ramírez threw 3⅓ scoreless innings on 39 pitches. The offense showed one faint hint of life when Lane Thomas and Luis García punched back-to-back doubles in the seventh. Ramírez, Steve Cishek and Jordan Weems stretched the bullpen’s scoreless innings streak to 21⅔ before the Dodgers (65-32) tagged Andres Machado for a run in the eighth.
But Corbin was again the focus, starting with General Manager Mike Rizzo’s weekly radio appearance on 106.7 the Fan on Wednesday morning. There has been speculation that Corbin could be included in a trade of Soto, a way for the Nationals to offload what’s left of a six-year, $140 million deal that is heavily backloaded. Washington owes him roughly $67 million through 2024, some of which could be deferred. Asked about packaging Soto and Corbin, Rizzo threw cold water on the premise — as he also did with the possibility of trading Soto in early June.
“We’ve never contacted a team and talked about Juan Soto and attaching any contract to any player,” Rizzo said. “We’re not going to dilute a return for any player by adding a bad contract.”
The radio hosts did not follow up on whether “a bad contract” referred to Corbin, but Rizzo’s point seemed clear.
“Just didn’t really fool them at all today,” Corbin said. “Kind of got into some deeper counts with them, they put the ball in play, and good things happened for them. I wasn’t able to get that last out there to try to go as deep as I can. Just have to forget about this and move on.”
What did Martinez see on the botched outfield play? “Lack of communication,” the manager said of the ball that fell between Robles and Soto. “They didn’t communicate.”
Robles is typically aggressive in center field and takes any ball he can. But as the outfielders neared the warning track, neither took charge and both peeled off. The result wasn’t ruled an error and wasn’t make or break for the Nationals. It was, however, a continuation of season-long defensive issues around the diamond.
How did the bullpen’s scoreless streak end? In a way it shouldn’t have. With two down in the eighth, Lux hit a grounder to the left of Hernández, who was in shallow right field as part of a shift for the left-handed hitter. In the previous at-bat, Hernández had ranged to his left and made a strong play to get Barnes by a step. But on Lux’s seeing-eye single, he didn’t catch the ball or knock it down while sliding.
Trayce Thompson had reached on a leadoff walk and scored from second, ending the streak.