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Another short start for Patrick Corbin paves way for another Nats loss

Nationals Manager Dave Martinez comes out to get Patrick Corbin with two outs in the first inning Saturday and his team already trailing 6-0. (Matt Rourke/AP)

PHILADELPHIA — Dave Martinez walked to the foot of the dugout steps and paused for a long moment. An extra second could have meant another warm-up pitch for reliever Jordan Weems. And besides, this was the last thing the manager wanted in the bottom of the first inning at Citizen Bank Park, where Patrick Corbin kept making the case that the Washington Nationals should try anything but having him pitch again.

Eventually, though, once that long moment passed, Martinez went to the mound and took the ball from Corbin. The Philadelphia Phillies had scored six runs on two homers, a triple and two singles. Screens around the ballpark showed 43 pitches for Corbin and only two outs. For the second time in three outings, Corbin failed to reach the second inning, well beneath the baseline expectations for a major league starter.

An 11-5 loss only raised a familiar question: With Corbin, who still has two seasons left on a six-year, $140 million deal, where in the world do the Nationals go from here?

One option is to stick him in the bullpen. A second is to pair him with an opener, giving the top of each order a maximum two turns against him instead of three. A third is to concoct an injury and give him a chance to reset away from getting pummeled every five days in the majors. A fourth is to designate him for assignment and eat a whole lot of money. And a fifth is the very definition of insanity, repeating the same process while expecting a different result.

“Um … we’ll have some discussions,” Martinez said when asked about moving Corbin to the bullpen. “I’m going to talk to Patrick and just see where he’s at mentally. He says all the right things when I talk to him. He’s working on different things. So we’ll see where we’re at in the next few days.”

Could a change in role potentially benefit him?

“Honestly, I really don’t know that yet,” Martinez answered. “His value to us is starting, so we want to continue to try to figure this out. But at what point, as we all sit back … at what point do we say maybe we should just go in a different direction? But I don’t want to make that decision right now. I want to talk to him, I want to see what’s going on, see how he’s doing physically and mentally, and then we’ll go from there.”

If a decision is made in the near future, it would probably happen well above Martinez and the coaching staff. General Manager Mike Rizzo is ultimately responsible for what happens next with the 33-year-old lefty. On Saturday, Corbin’s ERA jumped from 6.57 to 7.02. He became the second pitcher in Nationals history to have two starts last two outs or fewer. He became the first pitcher this season to allow six or more runs in two separate first innings. Only six other pitchers have done that once.

So Corbin remains a full-on injury risk for Washington’s bullpen, leaving seven outs for Jordan Weems (57 pitches), three for Steve Cishek (12), three for Hunter Harvey (19), three for Carl Edwards Jr. (27), three for Kyle Finnegan (14) and three for Andrés Machado (14). Weems was tagged for three runs and Edwards for two on a homer by J.T. Realmuto. With Cory Abbott starting Sunday, the Nationals (36-73) have four more games before a day off.

“I seemed kind of lost there just trying to figure out how to go out there, compete, get outs,” Corbin said. “I don’t know. I feel bad for the guys that had to come in and finish the game and eat up innings there. I just didn’t do my job tonight. Just got to try to talk to as many guys here, try to figure out how to go out there and get back to what I’ve done before.”

To chase Corbin in the first, Rhys Hoskins rocked a solo shot — his third first-inning homer in three games of this series — before Alec Bohm walked, Nick Castellanos singled, Matt Vierling hit a three-run homer, Jean Segura singled, Edmundo Sosa was hit by a pitch, Bryson Stott punched a two-run triple and Kyle Schwarber walked.

That was it. Ten batters, two retired, seven batted balls that each traveled 102 mph or faster. There is getting hit hard, and then there’s what the Phillies (59-48) did to Corbin. As he has struggled for most of the past three seasons, there was some value in his ability to stay on the mound and eat innings for noncompetitive teams. But since he’s not even doing that anymore, the Nationals may be forced to take a harder look at the collateral of Corbin’s repeated lapses.

With the worst winning percentage in the majors, they have little left to lose.

“The last few outings have been basically the same, really,” Martinez said. “He can’t finish hitters, his location, his misses. I feel bad. I mean, he’s going out there, and believe me, he’s not trying to miss his location. He’s trying to get outs, and he’s just not finishing hitters.”

How did the Nationals score their runs? Luke Voit put them on the board with his first home run for Washington, a solo shot off Phillies starter Ranger Suárez in the top of the sixth. From there, Suárez was hooked for reliever Nick Nelson, and the Nationals rallied for three more runs in the inning. Tres Barrera drove in two with a double and Victor Robles soon followed with an RBI single. In the seventh, Lane Thomas brought in Nelson Cruz with a sacrifice fly to center.

What is the next step for MacKenzie Gore? When the Nationals acquired Gore in the six-player return for Juan Soto and Josh Bell, the left-handed starter was on the injured list with left elbow inflammation. He remains sidelined with his new team, yet Martinez told reporters Saturday that Gore will start playing catch again toward the end of this coming week. That’s a good sign for the 23-year-old.