They got a quality start out of Patrick Corbin despite another roughshod first inning that set an ominous tone for the evening. They kept it close for most of the proceedings, remaining within one clutch hit of tying the game or taking the lead. Until the bullpen failed to keep it close late in its latest subpar showing.
And so the Nationals found themselves on the wrong end of a 6-2 loss to the Diamondbacks, done in by one of their weaker offensive performances in a while, the three-run hole Corbin dug them into from the outset and the three tack-on runs Carl Edwards Jr. and Jordan Weems surrendered late.
Make it seven losses in nine games for a Nats club that was feeling pretty good about its ability to compete and play .500 ball for more than a month not that long ago but has since regressed while facing stiffer competition.
They aren’t facing the Tigers and Royals anymore. The Nationals have now dropped three straight series to superior opponents, first the Dodgers, then the Phillies and now the Diamondbacks, who will be looking for a three-game sweep Thursday afternoon.
Then comes a road trip to Atlanta and Houston that could threaten to derail much of the forward momentum the Nats had built through most of May. They're a season-worst 11 games under .500, hoping not to keep plummeting.
"I think we're swinging it well. Pitching well, too," right fielder Lane Thomas said. "We've just got to do both of those on the same day."
Corbin last took the mound one week ago at Dodger Stadium, and on that afternoon he found himself trailing 3-0 only three batters in. It took two more batters to get there tonight, but Corbin found himself in the exact same position, trailing 3-0 in the blink of an eye with another ragged first inning.
The Diamondbacks wasted no time going after the lefty, with Ketel Marte doubling on the game’s first pitch and Corbin Carroll following with a bunt single on the next pitch. Emmanuel Rivera’s two-run double down the left field line put Arizona on the board, and Evan Longoria’s comparable double two batters later produced the third run of the inning and left Corbin staggering.
"I think – and this is something we talk to him about – they're going to come out and attack him, because they know he's going to be around the plate. He's going to throw strikes," manager Davey Martinez said. "It's something we're probably going to have to make an adjustment with him. Maybe throw more off-speed pitches. Don't attack with the fastball so early. And just try to get out of that first inning."
Somehow, Corbin managed not to crater. In that start last week in L.A., he would make it through the fifth allowing one more (unearned) run. Tonight, he made it through the sixth without allowing anybody else to cross the plate.
Corbin did this despite surrendering a boatload of hits, 11 in total, over his six frames. How did he prevent that from turning disastrous? By getting two runners thrown out on the bases, one via his own pickoff move and one via Thomas’ sixth outfield assist of the season (tied for most in the National League). And by keeping the Diamondbacks from delivering any clutch hits after the top of the first. They finished 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position against him.
So after all that, Corbin still somehow emerged with a quality start, keeping his teammates in the game.
"It's not that I'm not warmed up or not ready to go in the first," said Corbin, who now has a 7.62 ERA in the opening frame, 4.58 after that. "I mean, today you're two pitches in and you've got two guys on. Sometimes you throw a first-pitch strike and you get an out. You forget about it and try to just pitch deep in games. To be able to get through six today after giving up three was big to save some of the arms (in the bullpen)."
The Nationals didn’t give themselves many chances to make up the three-run deficit. They didn’t advance a runner past first base in the second, fourth, fifth or sixth inning against Diamondbacks starter Zach Davies. During one rough stretch, they went 0-for-11 with a walk.
"We've got to get back to having better at-bats," Martinez said. "Going up there, extending at-bats and trying to beat the starter."
They did manage to score two runs in the third, though, thanks to three straight hits by Alex Call (single), Thomas (double off the left field wall) and Luis García (RBI infield single to the right side), and a run-scoring double play off Jeimer Candelario’s bat.
But that’s all they managed off Davies, who departed with two outs in the seventh having struck out eight while walking only one.
"I feel like he's stayed around for a long time because he's got a lot of command, gets outs on soft contact when he needs to," Thomas said of Davies. "You really have to get him in the middle of the plate and get something up in the zone. I thought he pitched well tonight. He went really deep in that game and gave them a chance to use their (best relievers) at the end."
The beleaguered Nationals bullpen, meanwhile, couldn’t keep the deficit at 3-2. Edwards surrendered a two-out RBI double to Longoria in the seventh. Weems, in his first appearance since Tuesday’s promotion from Triple-A, surrendered a two-run homer to Carroll in the ninth, extending the deficit and making the challenge of a late comeback all the more daunting for the home team.
"These guys are good," Martinez said of the Diamondbacks. "They play the game the right way. They run, steal bases, they put the ball in play, they play good defense. We've just got to focus on what we do good, and that's basically the same."