WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Patrick Corbin’s last three seasons have been well documented. The numbers don’t need to be repeated. It’s best to just look forward.
The veteran left-hander took a positive step forward this afternoon in just his second spring training start in what resulted in a 6-2 loss to the Astros in front of 3,240 fans at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
The emphasis for Corbin, and all of the Nationals starters, has been working quickly and throwing strikes. He was able to do both while completing 2 ⅔ innings and throwing 50 pitches, 34 for strikes. He became the first Nats pitcher to go that deep in a game this spring.
“Pretty good. It was good to get a third up there,” Corbin said of pitching into the third inning. “I felt pretty good throughout, even getting up to 50 (pitches). They had a couple of longer at-bats, a couple of their guys. But that was good. I think trying to get in that rhythm to kind of work fast but also be in control and be sure you're ready to go. So I think overall pretty good.”
Pitching the bottom of the first inning for the away team against a lot of Astros regulars, Corbin’s outing started with back-to-back five-pitch strikeouts of Jose Altuve and Jeremy Peña. He then got Martín Maldonado to ground out to short on three pitches to finish the first inning with 13 total, nine for strikes.
“I thought he was good,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I thought his slider was a lot sharper than his last outing, which is awesome. For the most part, he kept the ball down. He threw up when you felt like you could maybe get a swing and miss up there. But I thought he threw the ball really well. Very sharp, ball was coming out really good. So I was very pleased. I think he was pleased as well. So it's a good start. I got him 50 pitches, which is like I said he's a little bit ahead of everybody else, so it was good.”
The second inning was almost as efficient if not for an 11-pitch at-bat against Kyle Tucker, which ended in a flyout to center field. Corbin got Alex Bregman to ground out on two pitches before the marathon against Tucker.
A five-pitch walk to Jose Abreu and a single to David Hensley put the first runners on base against Corbin. But he came right back to induce an inning-ending groundout against Bligh Madris.
Back out for the third inning, Corbin ran into some unfortunate luck. Jacob Melton led off with a bloop single over shortstop Jeter Downs and Altuve followed with a base hit to right that should have been caught but fell right in front of Stone Garrett.
But in a situation that would have completely fallen apart for him in the past, Corbin bounced back to strike out Peña for the second time on his 50th pitch to end his day.
“That was beautiful,” the manager said of Corbin’s bounceback strikeout. “Like I said, the slider, he struck him out with the sharp slider. So I thought that was great.”
“I thought slider was really good,” Corbin said. “The three strikeouts were on the slider. I thought I located it well. Got ahead of some guys and weak contact, so tried to be aggressive in the zone. I think overall pretty good. I thought the ball was coming out pretty good. So happy with everything and just try to continue to build up a pitch count.”
The two baserunners would come around to score with Jose Ferrer pitching and the runs being charged to Corbin. But that’s a small blip on an otherwise encouraging outing for the 33-year-old.
“I think today was trying to get three (innings) for 45 (pitches) was the range,” Corbin said. “The last hitter there had a little longer at-bat. But I've been feeling pretty good trying to build up. I think the next start trying to get four ups and see how many pitches that is. But I think overall pretty good.”
Anthony Banda gave up four runs in the fourth to put the Nats in a deep hole. But Thaddeus Ward, Paolo Espino, Hunter Harvey and Mason Thompson would follow with scoreless innings.
Offensively, the Nationals scored on an Alex Call leadoff double and Dominic Smith RBI single in the fourth, and then a Lucius Fox RBI ground-rule double in the ninth.
“I like the fact that he went up there, and it was two strikes as well, and he smoked the ball to right field,” Martinez said of Fox’s double. “I want him to be aggressive in the strike zone.”
* Jeimer Candelario is joining the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic as the replacement for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Martinez confirmed after the game.
The Nationals were getting Candelario extra work at first base on the half field this morning at the complex in preparation. Martinez chatted with former National and current Dominican player/manager Nelson Cruz about Candelario joining the squad.
“Yeah, he's going,” Martinez said. “So we got him some reps at first base this morning a little bit. Like I said before, I'm not gonna hold these guys back from representing their country. I think that's an honor. They called and I actually talked to Nellie about it and he's gonna go play. So good for him.”
Projected to be the Nats’ starting third baseman, Candelario made a great grab and throw to rob Bregman of a hit down the third base line to start the second inning.
Maybe he can give some guy named Manny Machado a run at the hot corner for the Dominican team instead.
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