Corbin's slider, Abrams' power lead Nats to victory (updated)

PITTSBURGH – The Nationals needed length from Patrick Corbin tonight. Entering this series opener against the Pirates, Nats starters had completed six innings only once in their last 12 games. And they had allowed at least one run in the first inning in 10 straight contests.

The veteran southpaw changed both of those narratives with a terrific showing to lead the Nats to a 6-2 victory in front of 10,045 fans at PNC Park.

“He was good," manager Davey Martinez said after the game. "Kept the ball down. Mixed his pitches in, but we talked about that all the time. And I know (pitching coach Jim Hickey) had a conversation after his last outing, just got to keep the ball down. And he was very effective. So we needed a big star from him today and he gave it to us.”

Corbin was on point from the start. He recorded a 1-2-3 first inning on seven pitches to become the first Nats starter to pitch a scoreless first frame since MacKenzie Gore on Aug. 29 in Toronto.

His slider was his most useful pitch, with the Pirates unable to to lay off it out of the zone or make decent contact in it. He induced 19 swings at his slider, 13 of which were whiffs, and got seven of his eight strikeouts with it.

“Throwing it in the zone, locating my fastball, stayed on the corners tonight," Corbin said of his slider. "When you get ahead, we could throw a couple down there and hopefully you get a swing. They're an aggressive team and sometimes if you don't make your pitches early, they can hop on it or jump on you and get some hits early. So that was just a big thing, location tonight, especially early in the count.”

“It was sharp tonight," Martinez said. "And like I said, when everything's working down, the slider plays.”

The only two runs scored off the left-hander were Bryan Reynolds’ RBI single in the third and Ji Hwan Bae’s RBI double in the seventh, which knocked the starter from the game with two outs and a 6-2 lead.

Corbin otherwise was lights-out, putting up four shutdown innings. He finished 6 ⅔ innings with five hits, two runs, one walk and eight strikeouts (one shy of his season high).

“Fastball command was pretty good," Corbin said. "That was just a big thing I think in between starts kind of getting back to that. And throwing some breaking balls early for strikes and getting ahead of guys. Then after that, I was able to expand with it and get some swings and misses.”

As the pitcher of record, Corbin became the first Nationals pitcher to win 10 games in a season since he, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Aníbal Sánchez all won double-digit starts in 2019. He is now also 3-1 with a 2.36 ERA in seven career starts at PNC Park.

With Corbin keeping the Bucs off the board, the Nats' offense was able to take an early lead and hold onto it with a rare display of power.

CJ Abrams got the scoring started with a two-run home run in the third. Facing right-hander Andre Jackson, the young shortstop hit a hanging changeup 417 feet to right-center field for his 17th longball of the year.

Abrams came back to launch his 18th homer in the seventh, a solo shot off a low fastball that traveled 383 feet just over the wall in right field. It gave the 22-year-old his first multi-homer game of his young career.

“I was just looking for my pitch," Abrams said. "Anything in the middle of the plate and I got two good pitches to hit. And I hit them out, didn't mess them.”

“He just stayed through the ball," Martinez said. "We were trying to get the ball up a little bit. Hit a changeup that was up and then another fastball middle-in. But he's swinging the bat really well. He's been playing really well. So I'm glad he's OK. And like I said, man, when he's leading off for us, he's been the catalyst.”

The Nationals added two runs in the fourth on an RBI single by Joey Meneses to score Keibert Ruiz, who led off the inning with a double to right. Meneses is now hitting .360 with runners in scoring position, good for fifth in the National League in such situations.

Later in the frame, Luis García beat out a double play ball with the bases loaded and one out to plate another run.

And Dominic Smith didn’t let Abrams have all the homer fun. The first baseman hit his eighth home run of the year in the sixth inning, crushing a high fastball 423 feet to straight away center field.

“I was just trying to get a strike," Smith said. "I know early in the game, I don't want to say I got myself out, but I just wasn't patient enough and I didn't get the pitch that I could do damage with. And right there, I just wanted to simplify the game and then just get something I can hit hard and I was able to leave the yard.”

“When he gets down and gets ready early, the ball starts to come off his bat well," Martinez said. "We worked diligently with him about doing that and staying on plane, not trying to do too much. And he's starting to swing the bat really well.”

Behind Corbin’s strong showing and the homers from the offense, the Nats won their first series-opening game in their last five attempts, starting this penultimate road trip on the right foot.

“That felt really good. Don't bring that up anymore please," Martinez said with a laugh of the Nats finally grabbing an early lead. "No, but hey, I'm glad we got through that. It's been a struggle to get out of the first inning for our starting pitchers. Tonight Patrick did well. And like I said, we got the lead and he kept pounding strikes and keeping us in the game. We were able to come back with a win.”

“I think it's just kind of a little tough stretch for us," Corbin said. "We played some tough teams as well, but just want to go out there and try to pitch deep in the game. The bullpen has been used a little bit. So just try to maybe give some of them a day off. But I think overall, offense put up some runs and I kind of put up as many zeros as I can. Just kind of keep the lead throughout the night. It was just a good game overall by everybody.”

“I think that's the name of the game," Smith said. "It starts with pitching and defense. And if we're able to take the lead, then we depend on them to really close it out. And that's what happened today. I think that just shows the fight of the group. I know we had a tough series against the Dodgers, but to come out today, play hard, get a great performance from Corbin, that's what winning baseball is about. It was fun. It was a great game.”

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