The Nationals had seen glimpses of Patrick Corbin at his best, but today they saw the left-hander at his absolute best from the moment he took the mound until the moment he departed 7 2/3 innings later. And what they saw during a 4-2 victory over the Giants confirmed what they’ve suspected all along: This is one of the best starters in baseball.
“He really wasn’t giving them any chance to get into any kind of rhythm,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “He was taking apart the corners. We were getting calls. I know their guys were kind of getting mad about it, but he was hitting that spot consistently. At some point, those calls are going to be made. And he just kept going right after it.”
We’ll get to Ryan Additon’s generous strike zone in a moment, because it undeniably played a role in Corbin’s success today. But an umpire can only make so much difference, and the lion’s share of the credit for this performance belongs to the man on the mound.
The Nationals gave Corbin $140 million over the winter because they were confident he was the best available starter on the free agent market and because they believed last season’s breakthrough performance in Arizona was no fluke.
Four starts in, they have been rewarded for their faith in the 29-year-old southpaw. Corbin has recorded four quality starts, each one better than the previous. He owns a 2.36 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. He has 33 strikeouts and only five walks. He’s holding opponents to a .198 batting average.
And he finally has a win to his name for all the hard work.
“It feels great,” Corbin said. “My first win here as a Nat. I just want to continue to build off this and continue to go out there every start and try to give our team a chance to win.”
Corbin had done just about everything in his power to make that happen his first three times out, but he emerged with no decisions either because of bullpen struggles or late-game changes of direction.
That wasn’t a problem today. The Nationals gave the lefty an early 4-0 lead. And though there were still some tense moments in the eighth and ninth innings - really, when haven’t there been tense moments in the eighth and ninth innings so far in 2019? - it wasn’t enough to prevent Corbin from being rewarded for his performance.
For much of the afternoon, the notion of Corbin going the distance wasn’t out of the question. He coasted through his first four innings on 49 pitches, erasing the only baserunner he allowed with a nice pickoff move. He also helped his own cause with a nifty, leaping catch of Ryan Zimmerman’s off-balance throw from first base to record an out, showing off the athleticism that defines him as much as his repertoire of pitches.
“He’s an unbelievable athlete,” manager Davey Martinez said. “You saw his hops at first base. He credits that to his basketball skills. But I’m just glad he caught the ball and stepped on the base.”
Corbin took the mound for the top of the eighth with his pitch count still a manageable 83, the Nationals leading 4-0 at the time. He admitted he began thinking about the possibility of a complete game, but then the Giants finally started making him work, fouling off a healthy number of pitches.
And when Erik Kratz sent a two-out RBI double down the left field line on Corbin’s 107th pitch of the day, Martinez decided not to push his starter any further and signaled for Kyle Barraclough from the bullpen.
“He had 107 pitches,” the manager said. “He had two outs. I thought it was a great spot for Bear.”
Now, about the strike zone. Of Corbin’s nine strikeouts, six were called by Additon, the third-year umpire who drew some animated reactions from batters from both sides during the course of the game. It seemed only a matter of time before someone said too much, and sure enough Giants manager Bruce Bochy did after Brandon Belt was punched out to end the top of the fifth.
Additon ejected Bochy. Two innings later, after Belt reacted negatively to another called third strike off the outside corner, Additon gave him the heave-ho.
“I mean, as big leaguers, we make adjustments,” Belt told reporters afterward. “He’s got to do the same thing. We put too much into this game to have at-bats taken away. Everybody out here is human. Everyone makes mistakes. But when you do it time and time again, something has to be done.”
On the flip side, the Nationals’ battery decided to take full advantage of the situation and kept going after that same outside corner of the zone in hopes of getting more calls.
“A hundred percent, man. A hundred percent,” Gomes said. “We all know us, umpires, everybody, we’re all human. Our zones are going to change sometimes. And we just kept taking apart that zone.”