Corbin's string of solid starts makes Nats' upcoming decision harder

SAN DIEGO – It looked like it could have been the beginning of the end for Patrick Corbin in the Nationals rotation on June 5.

The veteran left-hander, now one of only two active players remaining from the 2019 World Series championship roster and in the last season of his six-year, $140 million contract that has kept him has the highest paid player on the team while statistically being one of the worst pitchers in the sport, once again gave up a lot of runs in a single outing.

The Mets tagged him for six runs on seven hits (three home runs) in 5 ⅓ innings. Four days later, Josiah Gray, an important piece to the Nats rotation of the future, made his first rehab start while coming back from a right elbow/forearm flexor strain.

The two have pitched close to the same day over the last two weeks, seemingly lining up Gray to take Corbin’s spot in the rotation once he was deemed ready. Corbin’s future with the team remained a mystery. Would they move him to the bullpen, where they currently have only one lefty reliever? Would they try to use a six-man rotation like they did with some success last year? Or would they simply cut ties with the 34-year-old as a pending free agent with very little trade value?

Well, if you look at the way Corbin has pitched since that start against the Mets, it’s as if he’s borrowing a line from Lee Corso: “Not so fast, my friend.”

Corbin completed seven innings for the first time since July 9, 2023 against the Rangers last night, which got lost in the late dramatics that occurred in a 7-6 loss to the Padres in 10 innings. It was his third straight solid outing and fourth quality start on the season. He now has a 2.60 ERA (five runs in 17 ⅓ innings) and 0.981 WHIP (12 hits and five walks) while striking out 16 over his last three starts.

“I've been feeling good,” Corbin said. “Staying on the corners, changing speeds with all my pitches, getting ahead of guys. I think more competitive two-strike sliders to help finish guys instead of getting into longer at-bats. I just credit maybe a lot of that stuff. And the defense has been great. Just being able to work with our catchers more and more and kind of sticking with what's working.”

“Regardless of what people think of him,” manager Davey Martinez said, “seven innings, he's been pitching really well his last three outings, he gave us everything he had. And he pitched damn good. So I'm proud of him.”

The Nationals are aware of what has been said about Corbin in the media and throughout the fan base. They might have even been getting ready to make a decision on him soon. But he has shown them he still has value as a starter when he pitches like this. And despite what his overall numbers say (1-7 record, 5.46 ERA), he’s a leader in that clubhouse to a young rotation.

“I hear (what’s being said about Corbin) just like everybody else,” Martinez said. “But he's been the guy that I could count on and go out there and pitch every five days and take the ball. That's what I love about him. He takes the ball, he competes and he's doing unbelievable. It just gets to a point where we got to start scoring some runs for him. That's the key. But he's given us everything he's got and I'm proud of him. He could get down on himself. He never does. And he goes out there and pitches for his teammates, pitches for the Washington Nationals. And I love that about him.

The Nats will surely be keeping a close eye on Gray’s rehab start today with Triple-A Rochester. The Red Wings open a six-game homestand against Indianapolis (Pirates) at Innovative Field.

Martinez said last week the goal is to stretch Gray out to six ups and around 90 pitches. First pitch is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Eastern, so 3:45 p.m. here in San Diego. We should get an update from Martinez before tonight’s game.

If all things go well, this could be Gray’s last rehab start, with his 30-day rehab clock starting on June 9. But with Corbin’s recent string of solid starts, the Nats’ upcoming decision may be a little harder to make.

* Cade Cavalli’s rehab from Tommy John surgery has been put on hold again. But it is not due to any mechanical issues this time.

Unfortunately, the right-hander is sick with a case of the flu, so he won’t return to the mound until he recovers from that. He likely won’t pitch this week, which is especially now a shame after he tossed three scoreless innings on only 35 pitches, allowed only one batter to reach base (via walk) and struck out three in his last rehab start with High-A Wilmington.

* Joey Gallo, on the 10-day injured list with left hamstring strain, has begun a light running program.

* Jose A. Ferrer, on the 60-day IL with a left lat strain, pitched in another simulated game yesterday, striking out all four batters he faced on only 20 pitches. He’ll pitch again in the coming days.

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