Corbin gets ball for second straight Opening Day start

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – What had become clear in recent weeks became official today: Patrick Corbin will start Opening Day for the Nationals.

It’s not exactly an inspired choice, considering the left-hander’s immense struggles the last three years. But under the circumstances, the team felt it was the right choice, taking pressure off younger starters Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore in favor of a veteran who won’t be fazed by the moment.

“I’ve said this before: I’ve never gotten down on Patrick,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We know what he can do at any given time. He worked really hard over the winter, came to spring training in great shape, had a plan and he’s been pitching well. So he’s going to get the ball Opening Day.”

Corbin will take the mound shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday to face the Braves, who are starting fellow lefty Max Fried. He’ll do so on the heels of the worst season of his career, and statistically the worst season by any major league starter in 2022.

Owner of a 6-19 record, 6.31 ERA and 1.697 WHIP last year, Corbin doesn’t exactly look the part of an Opening Day starter. But he’s had the assignment twice before, in 2018 for the Diamondbacks and 2022 for the Nats. He has seniority on the staff now with Max Scherzer gone and Stephen Strasburg unable to return from thoracic outlet surgery. And he has the support of his manager, which matters to the 33-year-old.

“It’s an honor for Davey to allow me to take the ball, go out there and show what I can do,” Corbin said. “Opening Day is a very special day for everybody. A lot of excitement. Everybody’s 0-0, everyone has the same goal to win it all. No better way to start than to go out there.”

The challenge is a stiff one for Corbin, who faces one of the best lineups in baseball, one he’s struggled mightily against in recent years. In nine starts against the Braves since 2020, he is 0-8 with a 7.80 ERA and 1.852 WHIP. He hasn’t beaten Atlanta since July 29, 2019; the only member of the Nats lineup that night still in the organization is center fielder Victor Robles.

“The Braves have been towards the top the last couple years,” Corbin said. “Just a lot of big-time hitters in that lineup, a lot of power. Just have to make your pitches, go out and compete. Opening Day, you can have a lot of adrenaline running. Just stay within yourself and don’t do too much. Just try to make quality pitches.”

The Nationals have actually fared well in recent years against Fried, who finished second to Miami’s Sandy Alcantara in National League Cy Young Award voting last fall. The 29-year-old lefty has started 10 games against the Nats since 2020, and though he’s 5-2, his ERA is a pedestrian 4.35 and his WHIP is an elevated 1.432.

Martinez wasn’t ready to announce his lineup plans for the opener, but it may have a slightly different look against a lefty, perhaps with Alex Call starting in left field over Corey Dickerson.

Corbin is one of only seven pitchers to start Opening Day for the Nationals since 2005, joining John Lannan (2009-10) as two-time starters. Liván Hernández (2005-06, 2011) started three times, Strasburg (2012-14, 2017) started four times, Scherzer (2015-16, 2018-21) started six times and John Patterson (2007) and Odalis Pérez (2008) each got the assignment once.

“I think this is my 12th season going in. It seems like I just got called up yesterday,” Corbin said. “It’s flown by. You try to cherish these moments and really appreciate them. They don’t come by too often.”

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