ATLANTA – There was reason for optimism heading into this Patrick Corbin start.
His overall numbers still weren’t great in the form of a 4-10 record and 5.68 ERA over his first 17 outings. But he had been really effective over his last two starts with a 1.20 ERA, 16 strikeouts and three walks over a combined 15 innings. He pitched eight innings of one-run ball and recorded a season-high 12 strikeouts on June 28 against the Pirates and then pitched another seven innings of one-run ball on Monday against the Marlins.
But the third time was not the charm for Corbin this afternoon at Truist Park, as he was charged with four runs over six innings in a 4-3 loss to the Braves before a crowd of 40,632 fans.
Like a lot of his outings, Corbin had his ups and downs throughout this start. He faced the minimum in four of his six innings, with 1-2-3 innings in the third and sixth, and double-play balls in the second and fifth. It was the first and fourth innings where he struggled.
In the bottom of the first, Corbin almost worked around a Ronald Acuña Jr. leadoff single as he retired the next two batters. But Austin Riley hit a slider over the plate into the left-field seats for a two-run homer and an early 2-0 Braves lead.
“Pretty good. Just a tough team, obviously, over there," Corbin said after the game. "Good lineup. I think in the first inning just a bad breaking ball there that Riley hit out. But I think other than that, pretty good.”
The fourth inning wasn’t necessarily all of Corbin’s fault. He did give up back-to-back singles to start the frame, and then with one out, gave up another single to Eddie Rosario that should have loaded the bases. But Luis García, who made a nice running grab and jump throw for an out last night, couldn’t repeat the feat and was charged with a throwing error to allow a run to score. Then Orlando Arcia's single plated another run to make it a 4-1 Braves lead.
"I thought Corbin threw the ball really well again," manager Davey Martinez said. "Just a homer and an error got us today. But he was really good again, which is what we love to see. He's had some really good outings as of late, so we got to keep him right there.”
The lefty wasn’t totally all over the place like we’ve seen in the past. He induced 11 swings and misses, eight off his slider alone. He was charged with eight hits, four runs, two walks and four strikeouts on 102 pitches, 61 of them strikes.
“I thought we just did a good job mixing it up," Corbin said. "Like I said, there's some power in that lineup and got some ground balls, some hits that went through. But really other than that, that first-inning breaking ball, pretty pleased with everything.”
Corbin was almost let off the hook by the offense, but the late rally fell short. The Nats’ best chance was in the eighth. Juan Soto led off with a walk to knock Braves starter Kyle Wright out of the game. With Will Smith pitching, Josh Bell hit a first-pitch double to right field to put two runners in scoring position. And then Nelson Cruz delivered a clutch RBI single to make it a 4-3 game with runners in scoring position and no outs.
But García couldn't hit a fly ball deep enough for a sac fly, Keibert Ruiz struck out on four pitches and Yadiel Hernandez struck out on three pitches to end the threat, leaving it a 4-3 game.
Lane Thomas led off the ninth with a single to left, but Ehire Adrianza popped out on a bunt attempt and César Hernández struck out looking. After Soto finished a dramatic at-bat with a single to left to put two runners on, Bell grounded out to short to end the game.
“I love it. I love it," Soto said of his showdown against Braves reliever A.J. Minter in the ninth. "Even if I don't get success, that's one of the moments I want to be in. That's one of the best moments of the game. No matter what happened before, that's a key moment of the game, so you gotta go for it.”
“We left seven runners on base," Davey Martinez noted. "We had some chances to score. We had a guy on third base with no outs. We got to be a little bit more aggressive in the strike zone and not chase out of the strike zone.”
Steve Cishek and Mason Thompson each put up a scoreless inning out of the bullpen.
The early offense once again came from Soto. He hit his 17th homer of the season, and second in as many games, off Wright in the top of the third. The ball went 106.6 mph off his bat and landed 400 feet in the left field bleachers, giving him a 19-game on-base streak.
“In the homer at-bat, I just made the adjustment," Soto said. "He got me with a curveball in the first at-bat. I looked at the video, I thought it was a ball but it was a strike. So I just tried to make the adjustment, try to drive the ball that way.
Yadiel Hernandez added his sixth homer of the season in the seventh, a first-pitch leadoff homer to make it a 4-2 game. His blast went 103.1 mph off the bat and landed 413 feet in center field.
“I was looking for a fastball and he threw a slider that didn't break a whole lot," Yadiel Hernandez said of his homer, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I just reacted to the pitch and I was able to connect and hit a home run on it.”
Let’s run through the numbers again because they remain relevant: The Nats are now 7-32 on the season within the National League East and 23-24 against everyone else. They have won just two out of their last 23 games against their division rivals. Overall they are 30-57 and have lost nine of their last 10 games.
“We just got to play better," Davey Martinez said. "I don't worry about other teams. I worry about our team. And there's a lot of teaching going on right now. And we're getting some growing pains. But we got to keep going and we got to stay positive with these guys and teach. But we're gonna be good. … A lot of good things that I see. We're just not finishing games. But that'll come. And like I said, we got to stay on them, we got to continue to teach and things will turn around and bounce back.”