Dodgers get to Corbin, Nats can't get to L.A. bullpen (updated)

LOS ANGELES – For the Nationals to win a second straight game here, they were going to have to produce more offense against a Dodger bullpen tasked with pitching all nine innings tonight than Patrick Corbin gave up in his traditional starting role.

Neither end of that equation held up its end of the bargain. Corbin again gave the team length but not quality, and the Nats lineup came through with only one big hit against the L.A. bullpen during a 6-2 loss at Dodger Stadium.

Corbin, who hasn’t won in this historic ballpark since the 2019 regular season, made it to the seventh inning but was charged with five runs (one of those scoring after he departed). He fell to 0-3 with an 8.06 ERA in his first four starts of the season.

"Once again, the numbers show he didn't pitch well," manager Davey Martinez said. "But all in all, he gave us six-plus innings, a couple hits here and there. We just couldn't score any runs today, couldn't get anything really going."

The Nationals got a two-run homer from the surprisingly red-hot Jesse Winker, but little else against the four relievers Dodgers manager Dave Roberts used over the course of nine innings.

All of that sets up a rubber game early Wednesday afternoon that will decide both this series and the Nats’ entire West Coast trip, during which they’ve gone 4-4 to date.

"Look, we've got a chance to win a series here in L.A.," Martinez said. "We've got to get some rest, get up quick and get ready to play."

Both teams had golden opportunities for big first innings. Neither actually did it, though the Dodgers managed to push across one run.

The Nationals got three straight hits to open the game, and CJ Abrams probably should have scored from first on Winker’s double to right. But Abrams got slowed down approaching third when his helmet flew off and he attempted to catch it behind his back. By the time he recovered, he was thrown out at the plate, a costly out on the bases.

"One hundred percent, he should have just pulled up," Martinez said. "He was fumbling the helmet all over the place. He should've just stopped. He hesitated just for a second, and that's all it took."

The Dodgers also put their first three men on in the bottom of the inning, putting Corbin in a major early jam. But he managed to get Teoscar Hernández to ground into a double play, happily exchanging one run for two outs. And when he struck out Kiké Hernández to end the inning, the left-hander could feel content having minimized the damage.

Except the Dodgers didn’t let up after that. They saw four straight batters reach base in the bottom of the second, this time getting RBI hits from Austin Barnes and Mookie Betts for a 3-0 lead. As has been the case far too many times in recent years, Corbin got to two-strike counts against a host of opposing hitters, then couldn’t put them away.

And when Kiké Hernández, who actually struck out on sliders in each of his first two at-bats, mashed the one he saw in his third at-bat deep to left-center for a homer, the Dodgers had themselves four runs by the fifth inning. That made this Corbin’s fourth straight start to open the season allowing at least four runs, a number he also reached in each of his last two starts to conclude a dismal 2023 season.

"I think the numbers could be better," he said. "The last start, I thought I located well and the results just weren't there. Today I thought we did a better job mixing things up. My job is to go out there every fifth day and try to pitch as deep as I can."

When the sixth inning concluded, Corbin had allowed four runs, his pitch count at 89. It would have been perfectly appropriate to shake his hand and thank him for his efforts. But having asked a lot of his bullpen throughout this trip - and with Robert Garcia, the lone lefty, unavailable the second straight day due to illness - Martinez decided to let Corbin re-take the mound for the seventh, even though that meant a fourth encounter with Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman.

"We thought we could stretch him out," the manager said. "We had the lefties coming up. ... Hey, Patrick gave us the innings we needed tonight, cause our bullpen was still a little beat up. Tomorrow, we'll be a lot fresher."

Betts (who finished 5-for-5) would immediately double, then take third on Ohtani’s fly out to center. And rather than pitch to Freeman, Corbin intentionally walked the veteran first baseman, bringing Martinez out of the dugout and signaling for Derek Law from the bullpen.

Law, who had stranded only one of seven inherited runners to date this season, did just about everything he could to escape the jam. He struck out two of the three batters he faced, but the third reached on a little dribbler up the third base line, plating another insurance run and leaving Corbin charged with five earned runs.

Perhaps on another night, the Nationals would have been able to duplicate that output at the plate. Not on this night, not against these relievers. Winker’s homer was one of only two hits recorded off lefty Ryan Yarbrough, who completed five innings on only 58 pitches. Opener Kyle Hurt escaped that first-inning jam and tossed a perfect second. And late-inning specialists Joe Kelly and Daniel Hudson finished it off.

"The challenge is every guy they threw tonight was a little bit different," Winker said. "They're all very good, and they all can get you out in very different ways. They pitched really well tonight. They got big outs and stopped us from rallying."

Game 18 lineups: Nats at Dodgers
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