Second half opens in familiar fashion for Nats (updated)

PHOENIX – The Nationals returned from a four-day break this evening, hoping both for a fresh start to the second half of the season while also trying to maintain some semblance of the positive vibes they displayed during their unexpected victory in the first-half finale.

They got neither during a 10-1 trouncing at the hands of the Diamondbacks. There was no carryover from Sunday’s win over the Braves, not on the mound or at the plate. And there was nothing fresh about this game, only a whole lot of familiar sights from their miserable first half to the season.

On the mound, there was yet another ragged start by Patrick Corbin, who allowed five runs in five innings (four of them coming during one sequence in the bottom of the third). At the plate, there was yet another paltry performance against a good-but-not-great opposing starter, in this case Zac Gallen, who didn’t surrender his first hit until there were two outs in the sixth.

It all felt entirely appropriate for a Nationals club that has played this exact same game far too many times en route to a major-league-worst 31-64 record, including a whopping 16 losses over the last 18 games.

"Unfortunately it wasn't our day," second baseman César Hernández said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I think a lot of us, we had a few days off, and our timing was a little off. That's part of the game. Maybe we didn't have luck today."

Davey Martinez, who didn’t have the most relaxing break because he was at the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game in Los Angeles, was optimistic about his team’s chances of getting off to a better start prior to tonight’s game. That hope, though, quickly disappeared into the scorching hot, dry desert air.

Corbin, selected to start tonight’s opener over anyone else in the rotation despite his gaudy numbers, immediately got himself into a jam when he allowed a leadoff double off the wall to Carson Kelly in the bottom of the first. Though he would pitch his way out of it, the tone for the evening was set.

And sure enough, things unraveled for Corbin by the third. Four straight Arizona batters recorded hits with one out, the last of which was Ketel Marte’s three-run homer onto the overhang above the 413-foot sign in deep left-center, turning a game that was scoreless when the inning began into a 4-0 lead for the Diamondbacks.

"I'm still trying to figure out how Marte hit that changeup off the plate," Corbin said. "How he still got that much pop on it. Just a frustrating day for all of us here. It didn't seem like anything was working."

Corbin would allow one more run in the fourth, this time via only two singles, helped by the fact Daulton Varsho was running on the pitch when Geraldo Perdomo grounded out to second, preventing a double play in the process.

By the time the fifth inning came to an end, Corbin’s 99-pitch outing was over. It went just like so many of his 19 previous starts did. He felt good, and yes he did strike out seven. But he’s now 4-13 with a 6.02 ERA. Both his loss total and ERA are worst in the majors.

"I feel the ball's coming out alright," he said. "I just haven't been getting any results."

Like Corbin, the Nationals’ offensive outcome tonight went just as so many other games have gone of late. They didn’t so much as hit a ball out of the infield off Gallen until the fourth inning. By the time they reached the sixth, only one batter had reached base, and that came when third baseman Sergio Alcántara let Victor Robles’ grounder to his left slip under his glove for an error.

At long last, the Nats got their hit, even if it wasn’t exactly a resounding one. Gallen broke Hernández’s bat with two outs in the sixth, but that only made his soft line drive comebacker sort of knuckle toward Gallen, who couldn’t make the clean catch and thus saw his no-hit bid end in agonizing fashion.

"As much as you try not to think about it, in your head you know he's throwing a no-hitter," Hernández said. "So you start swinging at pitches maybe you normally don't swing it. You're more aggressive, because you want to make sure you break up the no-hitter. But it definitely changed after that first base hit was made."

The Nationals would add a legitimate hit in the seventh when Juan Soto lined a single to right to extend his career-high streak to 27 games reaching base. But that was the extent of the offensive attack tonight until a too-little, too-late rally in the ninth, yet another feeble showing from a lineup that isn’t even benefiting from the presence of one of the best hitters in baseball.

"We hit some balls hard," Davey Martinez said. "Unfortunately when we hit the ball hard, it's on the ground. We can't get the ball in the air. We've got to start driving balls, getting them more in the air."

Add in five tack-on runs against three relievers (Jordan Weems, Hunter Harvey, Víctor Arano), and the Nats opened the second half with a blowout loss. So much for a fresh start.

"It was disappointing," Davey Martinez said. "I thought Corbin was going to have a good outing. He had just one bad inning."

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