Pitching coach Paul Menhart approached the mound and the bullpen door swung open, but warming reliever Wander Suero stayed put. The Nationals needed Corbin to work out of the jam to avoid baseball’s worst bullpen. Menhart left, Corbin stayed in — and his next pitch resulted in a crucial double play. Corbin struck out catcher Bryan Holaday, beelined to Manager Dave Martinez in the dugout and said he wanted the ball in the ninth, too.
Martinez blessed it and Corbin retired the Marlins in order, sealing the Nationals’ 5-0 victory.
Before the game, with an extra day off ahead, Corbin told Martinez he had 115 pitches in him. He was at 103 through eight when he made his case.
“Sinker was great today,” Corbin said. “I don’t think we missed in the middle of the plate all day. Being able to throw the slower breaking ball, we got ahead on a bunch of at-bats. Then [we] got some groundballs on fastballs in and the slider. Just a great mix up.”
Martinez added: “He picked us up. A well-needed rest for our bullpen, for sure.”
The battery of Corbin and catcher Yan Gomes sustained its success, in part, because Corbin and Gomes noticed home plate umpire Tim Timmons affording some strikes low and away and decided to attack the zone. They didn’t fool around with many pitches designed to make hitters chase and let the aggressive Marlins continue making early outs on their own.
“We all know his game plan is to get to his slider,” Gomes said of Corbin, “but we didn’t have many chances to get to his slider. He was able to locate his two-seamer, get some early outs and go deep in the ballgame.”
Corbin finished his first complete game of the season and fifth of his career with 116 pitches and gave the Nationals a modest two-game winning streak, which ties their longest of the season. More than that, the win gave this team hope that, after getting swept in a four-game series in New York earlier in the week, this 10-game stretch against NL East foes can still be salvaged.
On Friday night, the Nationals squeaked out a slugfest, 12-10, but afterward Martinez was as intense as he had been after any win in his tenure. He praised his players’ resiliency, as he often does, but instead of minimizing miscues while highlighting hustle, his approach flipped. He offered no excuses for his team’s four errors, the bullpen’s bumbling, the mental mistakes. His team started play 20-31 on Saturday, 10 games behind first-place Philadelphia, and for the first time all season, he noticed players forcing it.
“That pressure [is] always coming back,” Martinez said before Saturday’s game. “You know, it does mount.”
The Nationals did not stop making mistakes Saturday — Adam Eaton ran into an out on the bases in the fourth — but Corbin (5-2) rendered them moot, allowing just four hits and one walk while striking out five. And the offense did its part, scoring all the runs the Nationals needed in the fourth inning.
Eaton was thrown out at third following a single by Anthony Rendon, who took second on the throw. Juan Soto scorched a single into center, scoring Rendon. Matt Adams worked a seven-pitch walk. After a wild pitch, Brian Dozier grounded to the third baseman, but Soto pressed the issue by breaking for home and scored despite the throw with a perfect hook slide directed by the on-deck batter, Victor Robles.
“It’s something natural,” Robles said in Spanish about Soto’s sliding form. “You can’t teach that.”
Three pitchers later, a 97-mph sinker grazed Robles’s right cheek while he tried to bunt. The 22-year-old lay on the ground for almost a minute but eventually jogged to first base. After the game, he said he would not add a guard to his helmet and said the close call would not change his aggressiveness at the plate. On the pitch after that, Robles scored from first as Gomes doubled to clear the bases.
“He’s a tough kid,” Martinez said of Robles.
Corbin took care of the rest, steamrolling through the Marlins lineup, generating a steady stream of weak groundballs and lazy popups. He allowed a single in each of the first two innings but wiped them away immediately with inning-ending double plays. The left-hander worked fast, pounding the strike zone and, the night after arguably the Nationals’ worst night of defense this season — which, considering the contenders, is saying something — the team turned in one of its most crisp defensive performances.
Eaton made a sliding catch in right. Rendon and Trea Turner made tough pickups on the left side and stayed balanced enough to throw runners out at first. Dozier, one night after he dropped a routine popup Martinez said he catches “a thousand times,” made perhaps his finest play of the season at second by spearing a line drive back up the middle. The pitcher in front of them played to the performance.
“I’m not always trying to strike out guys. It just kind of happens sometimes,” Corbin said. “Today they were swinging early, so I was just trying to make quality pitches and [get contact and] trying to pitch as deep as I could.”
After the second double play, Corbin retired 16 of the next 17 hitters all while maintaining a low pitch count. Anxiety over the team’s bullpen could be tamped down for an afternoon. After the final out, a soft groundout to third from Garrett Cooper, Corbin’s teammates met him at the mound. The fans stayed standing and, during Corbin’s television interview, applauded. When the Nationals needed it, Corbin delivered.
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