PHILADELPHIA – The Nationals have very tough questions to face with Patrick Corbin. As if that wasn’t already the case, the situation seems to be getting worse and worse every time the veteran lefty takes the mound.
For the second time in his last three starts, Corbin only recorded two outs in the first inning before being pulled from the game. He was charged with six runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Dodgers in Los Angeles on July 27.
Tonight he was charged with six runs on five hits in two-thirds of an inning at Citizens Bank Park in an eventual 11-5 loss to the Phillies.
Luke Voit’s first home run with the Nationals (and team-leading 14th of the season), Tres Barrera’s two-run double and Victor Robles’ infield RBI single in the sixth, and Lane Thomas’ sacrifice fly in the seventh produced the only runs. Voit’s longball went 379 feet to right-center field.
“He's having really good at-bats,” manager Davey Martinez said of Voit. “Like I said, when we got him, I knew that he can hit. He's fit nicely in our lineup and he's proving that now.”
If you take out Corbin's outing, this would have been a tied game. But you can't, making today once again about struggling starter.
“Just a frustrating night," Corbin said. “I seemed kinda lost there just trying to figure out how to go out there, compete, get outs. I don't know. I feel bad for the guys that had to come in and finish the game. ... But just didn't do my job tonight. I 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.”
The Phillies were all over Corbin, just like the Dodgers were a little over a week ago. Was there anything the opposing lineups were doing that led to so much success so early in the game?
“I have an idea, but I don't know if it's necessarily true,” Corbin said. “I think personally just trying to get back to my slider. It hasn't maybe been where it's been before locating inside. I think maybe they were eliminating some pitches and then there's a couple of sinkers down and away that I thought were located that were hit hard. So I think just a combination of a lot of things also. It's hard to really say I'm pitching one inning when you throw 40-plus pitches. I think a lot of things can be looked at.”
“Well, 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.”
I wrote in my lineup post this afternoon that despite his gaudy numbers (which we’ll get to soon), at least Corbin takes the mound every fifth day. Sometimes the best ability is availability. But after another horrendous outing, it’s fair to counter and ask: At what cost?
“Obviously, it's tough,” catcher Tres Barrera said. “For a guy like Patrick, there's one thing that that guy, he's been working his tail off day in and day out, trying to figure it out and trying to find ways to go out there and find the best version of himself. And I know it's been tough. We game plan. We thought we had a good plan today and every other day. But you just got to go back to the drawing board and keep working. That's the only thing you can do at this point. You can sit around and pout about it or be mad about it. But that's not the type of guy he is. I think he's probably gonna swallow this one and get back to work.”
Well, we know the cost.
Corbin signed a six-year, $140 million contract with the Nationals as a free agent before the 2019 season. And he was good that first season, going 14-7 with a 3.25 ERA in 202 innings over his 33 starts. He even finished 11th in National League Cy Young Award voting.
But over his last three seasons, Corbin has been one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball. Over his last 64 starts coming into tonight, he went 15-38 with a 5.84 ERA and 1.582 WHIP.
The 33-year-old is making $23 million this year and is due almost $60 million over the next two seasons.
Which brings us to his gaudy numbers this year. Corbin is now 4-16 with a 7.02 ERA on Aug. 6.
The only qualified major league pitcher to finish with a higher ERA since 2000 was José Lima, who did it both in 2000 (6.65) and 2005 (6.99). There also hasn’t been a 20-loss major league pitcher since Mike Maroth went 9-21 for the Tigers in 2003. Corbin is on track to eclipse both of those marks.
Corbin is the first non-opener starter to have two starts of two-thirds of an inning or less this season, per MLB.com. He is also the first pitcher in Nationals history to have two starts of two-thirds of an inning or less in one season. Entering today, only seven pitchers had allowed six-plus runs in the first inning this season, with Corbin being one of them. He is now the only one to do so twice.
“Physically, I feel good, which has been really frustrating,” he said. “I'll continue to do what I've done to prepare and be ready and talk to as many people as I can here to try to get back to where I was.”
So what do the Nationals do with him now?
“We'll have some discussions,” Martinez said. “But I'm going to talk to Patrick and just see where he's at mentally. He says all the right things. I talk to him. He's working on different things. So we'll see where we're at in the next few days.”
They could have traded him before Tuesday’s deadline, with general manager Mike Rizzo saying Wednesday during his weekly appearance on 106.7 The Fan’s “The Sports Junkies” that Corbin was discussed in his own trade, separate from the Juan Soto deal, but that it didn't make sense for the Nats to make the move. Even without knowing the offer for Corbin, that decision may raise a few eyebrows.
That’s a lot of money to just eat by releasing him, so would a move to the bullpen be worth a shot? The Nationals don’t have a lefty in the ‘pen. And when Corbin manages to go multiple innings, there is usually at least one efficient frame in there somewhere.
Maybe they can start the game with an opener and have Corbin come in after one time through the order?
“Honestly, I really don't know that yet. I really don't,” Martinez said when asked if a move to the bullpen would be the best thing for Corbin at this point. “His value to us is starting, right? So we want to continue to try to figure this out. But at what point, as we all sit back, you're right, at what point do we say, hey, I think 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.”
Whatever it may be, the Nationals need to figure out an answer soon. Corbin’s spot in the rotation will come up about 10 more times before the season is over.
Even for a rebuilding team, what he’s putting out there now isn’t good for anyone.
“We got to keep going. Right?” Martinez said. “I always say and I always talk about being where your feet are. Just see one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time, play good defense. We got to keep going. And I got to remind myself, when we started this, what we're heading for and what we're building for, and that's for the future. We're gonna have some good players come up here relatively soon. And we just got to keep battling, keep going every day.”
* Speaking of the future and some good players that may come up relatively soon, this has to be as good a time as any to discuss some prospects on the Nationals farm …
Right-hander Jackson Rutledge, currently the Nats' No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline, pitched five shutout innings of four-hit ball with six strikeouts and only one walk for low Single-A Fredericksburg. Outfielder James Wood (No. 4) went 1-for-5 with two strikeouts in his second game in the Nats system. The FredNats won 3-0 over the Down East Wood Ducks (Rangers).
Outfielder Robert Hassell III (No. 1) went 0-for-3 with a walk, two strikeouts and a stolen base in his third game with high Single-A Wilmington. He’s collectively 0-for-11 with a run scored, a walk, four strikeouts and the stolen base since joining the Nats farm. The Blue Rocks lost 3-0 to the Aberdeen IronBirds (Orioles).
Outfielder Trey Harris, the return for trading Ehire Adrianza to the Braves on Monday, went 0-for-4 with a strikeout with Double-A Harrisburg. He’s 3-for-16 with a run, a double, an RBI and four strikeouts in three games since joining the Nats system. The Senators lost 8-0 to the Bowie Baysox (Orioles).
Shortstop C.J. Abrams went 1-for-3 with a run, a walk, a strikeout and a stolen base with Triple-A Rochester. The Red Wings fell to the Columbus Clippers (Guardians) 3-1 for their 16th straight loss. Right-hander Cade Cavalli (No. 2) starts tomorrow.