ATLANTA - Patrick Corbin took an exceptionally long time between pitches. He shuffled his feet, kicked some dirt and adjusted his belt ever so slowly before turning around and motioning to the second base umpire.
Something wasn’t quite right.
Corbin left with back spasms in the first inning of Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Braves after throwing just 12 pitches. After throwing a 76-mph slider high and outside to Matt Olson and fidgeting around the rubber, the lefty was greeted by manager Davey Martinez and head athletic trainer Paul Lessard.
Corbin, who leads the Nationals (51-97) in both starts and innings pitched, stretched his back before taking a slow walk to the visitors' dugout.
"He just threw a pitch and (his back) tightened up on him," Martinez said after the game. "We watched him, he started trying to stretch. We went out there and he said it just cramped up on him. ... As he was getting back on the mound, he said he couldn't get loose, so the smart thing to do is just get him out of there."
"I didn't feel anything before or going into (the game)," said Corbin. "Just the last pitch that I threw just kind of grabbed on me, just not quite sure what it is. Tried to just hang out there as long as I could, maybe see if it went away, just didn't. Just a little sore now. Hopefully in a couple days it gets better, but I don't think it's too serious, just pretty sore.
"If I could've pitched, I would've. You never want to put the bullpen in a situation like that."
Veteran reliever Erasmo Ramirez entered for Corbin, closing the frame by striking out Olson. The lefty pitched into the fourth inning and allowed a two-run home run to Travis d’Arnaud before being replaced by Jordan Weems, who tossed 2 ⅓ perfect innings.
"Being in the bullpen, you have to be ready for everything," said Ramirez. "Of course, you don't want something like today to (happen), but at the same time you have to know what your role (is), and my role, for sure, is just be ready for the sign in the first inning ... and just go as long as you can and you can survive. Just keep the ballgame as close as you can.
"I know one pitch can change everything, and that was today."
The Nats' bats once again came up short, collecting seven hits, only one of which went for extra bases. Braves starter Charlie Morton struck out nine and allowed one run on three hits, walking three.
"His curveball was good," Martinez said of Morton. "He had good stuff. He got out of some jams. We had bases loaded once (in the fourth), he got out of it, but he's a good pitcher."
Washington’s first run came in the sixth, when a double by Joey Meneses and single by Luke Voit chased Morton from the game. Atlanta reliever Collin McHugh induced a ground ball from César Hernández, but second baseman Vaughn Grissom’s errant throw sailed into left field, allowing Meneses to score. Voit and Hernández advanced into scoring position with the Nats having cut the Braves’ lead to 2-1.
But McHugh limited the damage, getting CJ Abrams and Ildemaro Vargas to ground out, ending the threat.
Dansby Swanson's solo homer in the eighth off Kyle Finnegan appeared to put the game away, but the Nats attempted one more rally in the ninth and put the go-ahead runs on base against Kenley Jansen.
Ildemaro Vargas and Victor Robles reached to start the inning before Jansen struck out Josh Palacios and Lane Thomas. But Luis García delivered an RBI single, making it a 3-2 game. Meneses was intentionally walked, but Voit flew out to center field to end the ballgame.
The Braves (93-55) have held the Nationals to just four combined runs through the first two games of the series, and have beaten them in 12 of 15 matchups this season.
Martinez used four pitchers – Ramirez, Weems, Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan – in relief of Corbin, and tomorrow’s afternoon tilt presents a challenge for the Nats, who will start Paolo Espino.
"I think we end up being all right," said Martinez. "Some of the guys that didn't pitch today gotta be ready for tomorrow, and we'll see how the game goes."