Patrick Corbin did almost everything right in his Sunday start against the Yankees.
His slider was working to perfection, his fastball was locating well and his sinker was difficult to touch. Corbin was pitching so well that he did not allow New York a baserunner until the fourth inning.
The first batted ball to leave the infield was a Gleyber Torres single with two outs in the fourth. Three innings later, Torres ended Corbin’s shutout bid with a solo homer.
Corbin was pulled after that home, which cut the Nats’ lead to 2-1. His outing became a no-decision when the Yankees tied it up later in the seventh on a Luke Voit solo shot. New York eventually finished the comeback from the 2-0 deficit to win 3-2.
“He threw the ball really well,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez on postgame video call. “It’s his first time getting up in a game seven times. The last inning he started, (he was) getting the ball up, so we knew he was at his limit. If he can go out and keep doing that for us every five days, we are going to win a lot of games.”
“I was just trying to go out there and throw strikes, quality strikes against this team,” Corbin said on a video call. “Try to minimize as many mistakes as I could. I thought we did a good job getting ahead of these guys with our fastball - throwing it inside, outside, mixing it up, up and down - and throwing some straight sliders and then getting them to chase later on. Was in a rhythm with Yan (Gomes) all day.
“Felt good for the first time out there, being able to go out there, throw strikes and try to be as efficient as I can. The homer was just a low heater in. Probably would have liked it a little more in, but this is a good lineup here. You try to limit them. Solo homers aren’t going to kill you. Just maybe would have liked to get it in a little bit more.”
And if the Nats had scored five runs Sunday, every Nats fan would be celebrating how good Corbin was with his first win. For his first start of 2020, he was that good.
The southpaw struck out Giancarlo Stanton two times. After Torres’ single, the next ball to leave the infield came in the sixth when Kyle Higashioka and DJ LeMahieu flew out to Adam Eaton and Victor Robles, respectively. Aaron Judge ended up 0-for-4, with three of those at-bats against Corbin, including a strikeout on a sinker immediately before Torres broke the shutout.
Prior to the game, Martinez was hoping for five or six innings from Corbin. To see his starter get into the seventh was a gift for his first start of 2020. Martinez thought the big three of Will Harris, Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson was going to be able to take it from there. But the Yankees came back for the win.
“It was hot,” Martinez said. “We talked about this being the first time he’s been up in the seventh inning. The first at-bat, the ball was up a little bit. He likes to pitch down in the zone. When I went out to talk to him, he said he felt fine. He said, ‘I’m good.’ We had our guys in the bullpen locked in, so I thought that was the perfect opportunity. Gave us all he had for as long as he could.”
Corbin said in a normal season at this time of year, he would be able to get his pitch count up. On Sunday, he lasted 6 1/3 innings with 75 pitches, allowing only one run on two hits with eight strikeouts and no walks - certainly an impressive line after not going past five innings during summer training. After sitting down in the dugout and exhaling at the end of the start, Corbin could feel the effects of how hard he had worked.
“I felt pretty good,” Corbin said. “I told Davey when he came out I felt good enough to continue. I think right when I was done, I was pretty gassed and you go into the dugout and sit down. But I went five innings (and) that was the most that I’ve gone to this point. So I think to go out there, get to the seventh is a good step. I don’t think it was necessarily the pitch count - it was more so getting up seven times, getting back out there on your feet. I feel I could easily go out and throw 90-plus pitches. I think it was just getting up the seventh inning there.”
Corbin also understood why Martinez decided to pull him, with the game was set up for the bullpen to take over.
“First time out there, I went three innings, four innings, five innings to get up to this point,” Corbin said. “I haven’t made it through six innings, so I thought getting to the seventh there, even though the pitch count wasn’t super high, getting up seven times was something I haven’t done.
“After that homer with Stanton coming up, we have a good bullpen down there, so you’ve got to get those guys in there. I understand it. If this was a normal season at this point, or if my pitch was up, it was definitely a situation I’d love to be in. But everyone’s got to be smart about this to where we’re smart with getting our pitch count up there and where we’re able to go past 100 pitches is where I want to be.”
Being smart is the key here for the Nats and their starters. Stephen Strasburg is out with a nerve impingement in his right wrist and Max Scherzer is coming off a start where he allowed two early runs and ended his start with four runs on the board. The Nats needed Corbin to stay healthy and have no reason to push him to start this season. For his first outing to get into the seventh inning, allowing just one run, the Nats could not have asked for more from the left-hander.
“Today I felt pretty good location-wise on a lot of things,” Corbin said. “Hopefully, I can just continue to grow off this. I just think getting into a routine and going out there every fifth day and gradually building up that pitch count, I think those are just the things we’re going to have to do.”