Corbin rocked as Nats get shut out by Twins (updated)

There hadn’t been a night like this, not for the Nationals and not for Patrick Corbin in a while. The kind of night when you know early on it’s going to be one of those nights. The kind of night that too often defined Corbin’s 2020-23 seasons but seemingly had occurred with less frequency so far in 2024.

It happened tonight, though, and it was no easier to watch than any of the previous ones. The only saving grace: There may not be that many more opportunities for Corbin to experience more of these.

Tonight’s 10-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Twins was perhaps the low point of the season to date for the Nationals, who even when they lose have almost always managed to keep it close. Not so this time, not with Corbin getting rocked by a Minnesota lineup that had scored a total of 12 runs during its now-expired seven-game losing streak.

It didn’t help matters that the exact same Nats lineup that busted out for 12 runs Monday night against Pablo López and the Twins bullpen was completely shut down by Joe Ryan only 24 hours later. Not that it would’ve made a whole lot of difference tonight, because it would’ve required a ton of run support to counteract Corbin’s start.

"Sometimes those days just happen," manager Davey Martinez said. "He's been really good, and really keeping us in games. Today, it just didn't happen."

The left-hander indeed took the mound tonight on something of a sustained upswing, at least by his admittedly low standards. Over his last five games, he had a 3.46 ERA, minimizing damage in large part because he kept the ball in the yard, surrendering only one homer in 26 innings.

It was quickly apparent tonight would be different. Though Corbin escaped a first-inning jam that included a runner on third with two out, he did not duplicate the feat in the top of the second. Byron Buxton opened that frame by driving a cutter to right-center for a leadoff homer. (The Twins would add a second run before the inning was over.)

Jose Miranda took his turn in the top of the third, launching a letter-high fastball from Corbin deep to left for a two-run homer and a 4-0 lead. And when Buxton came back up in the top of the fifth and drilled a fastball to center for his second homer of the night, it was 6-0 in front of a crowd running out of reasons to stick around for the rest.

"Sometimes solo homers ... I mean, three of those make it 3-0 instead of 6-0. It's a big difference to it," Corbin said. "Just not around the plate as much today. And the location on some of those fastballs weren't there. Overall, one of those days where it seemed like anything I threw got hit."

At this point, the Nationals leave Corbin out there to at least complete six innings or reach the 100-pitch mark. He did both tonight, giving up two more runs in the top of the sixth and finally exiting with a total of 106 pitches thrown, his ERA having jumped from 5.59 to 6.29 following his worst start of the season.

This was the 11th time Corbin has allowed seven or more runs in a start since 2020. Only Jordan Lyles, with 12, has done it more times.

"I know some of these games happen sometimes. It stinks, obviously," he said. "I'm upset about it. But it's your start day. You go out there every fifth day, you try to go as deep as you can. You never want to come out and let the bullpen eat up some of those innings. Sometimes it stinks, but it's your job. You've got to go out there, fight through and try to go as deep as you can."

For four years now, fans have asked what it will take for the Nats to drop Corbin from their rotation. To this point, the organization’s argument has been fairly simple: Until there are clearly five better options, he’ll remain. (The $140 million contract he signed prior to the 2019 season, of course, has also been a major part of the equation, not that anyone will say that on the record.)

At this moment, the Nationals can probably continue to say there aren’t five clearly better options. But the clock, at long last, is ticking, and there’s reason to believe a move could finally be made within the next month.

Josiah Gray has been on the 15-day injured list more than a month now with a flexor strain in his elbow, but the right-hander has been throwing off a mound for two weeks and appears ready to begin facing live hitters in the coming days. Gray will still need to go on a minor league rehab assignment and build up his workload again, but he’s making his way back and will have to take someone’s rotation spot once he’s ready.

Cade Cavalli, meanwhile, made his long-awaited rehab debut Monday in West Palm Beach, tossing 2 2/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts in a Florida Complex League game. The club’s 2020 first-round pick, now 14 months removed from Tommy John surgery, is on track to return by mid-to-late June. That’s another spot in the big league rotation that will be allocated to a promising young arm.

The hope has been that Corbin could pitch well enough in the final year of his contract to warrant some interest from other clubs heading into the July trade deadline. That may be wishful thinking at this point. The more logical move now: A transition to a bullpen role, one that would give the Nats a much-needed second left-hander and allow them to finally move on from Corbin without the indignity of releasing him.

That move probably isn’t happening quite yet. But for the first time in four years, it feels within reach.

"I can't say anything bad about the guy," Martinez said. "Since I've been here, he's been that guy that works hard. Now he's kind of the quiet leader in the clubhouse. He does everything we ask him to do. He's going to take the ball. He never wants to come out of the game, ever. Hopefully he puts this one behind him and gets ready in five days and gets ready to go again."

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Game 47 lineups: Nats vs. Twins

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