Davey Martinez wasn’t pleased at all with the Nationals’ play Friday night. Yes, they beat the Marlins, but they did so in spite of themselves, booting balls in the field and burning up their bullpen on a night when their lineup scored 12 runs.
Martinez wanted better play from his team. And he got it this afternoon in one of its best all-around showings of the year.
Behind a four-hit shutout from Patrick Corbin, a five-run rally in the bottom of the fourth and - most importantly - some sparkling defense the entire way, the Nationals cruised to a 5-0 victory over Miami for a much-needed breather on South Capitol Street.
After the chaos and agony of a four-game sweep in New York to begin the week, the Nats have now won two in a row over the (admittedly major league-worst) Marlins. More than the result, they played like the clearly superior team today, winning because of their performance and not in spite of it.
“To play a game like that - clean, Patrick goes nine, everybody contributes - it’s amazing,” Martinez said. “They all feel it and they’re all in there celebrating right now. It’s a lot of fun. Let’s come back and do it again.”
Corbin set the tone with the latest in his string of top-notch starts. The lefty went the distance on 116 pitches, scattering four hits and a walk. Miami never seriously threatened against him, and he emerged with a 5-2 record, 2.85 ERA and 1.032 WHIP, not to mention 81 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings.
“You try to have every start like, that but it doesn’t always work out,” said Corbin, who notched his fifth career complete game and his second shutout. “Just made some good pitches over the course of the game. Defense was excellent tonight. And Yan (Gomes) laid down the right pitches. It just felt like we were on (the same) page the whole day.”
So much so that Martinez let his lefty go the distance. With his pitch count at 103, Corbin walked off the mound at the end of the eighth. Conventional wisdom suggested that would be it for him today. But the Nationals’ current bullpen situation is anything but conventional. And so when the pitcher asked to stay in the game, his manager said yes.
“He was very adamant and said that he felt good,” Martinez said. “He had an extra day (before his next start). We talked and told him that he’s got 115 pitches. He got to 116 and gave me a look.”
“I felt good,” Corbin said. “I thought I could get three more. So I said I’ll get the next three.”
Which he did with ease. Corbin retired the side in the ninth on 13 pitches, then received some well-earned high-fives from his teammates at the center of the diamond.
Those teammates helped make this outing possible. Less than 24 hours after perhaps their worst defensive performance of the season, the Nationals put together one of their best games in the field in 2019. That was especially true of their middle infield duo, with Trea Turner and Brian Dozier combining to turn a pair of early inning-ending double plays, Dozier leaping well to his right to snag a tough line drive up the middle and Turner breaking his first successful jump-throw in quite some time.
Throw in a sliding catch down the right field line by Adam Eaton, and Corbin had plenty of help behind him today. Not the lefty needed a lot of help, because he was in peak form from the get-go.
Through five innings, Corbin allowed only two Marlins to reach base, and each of those was subsequently retired via the aforementioned double plays. So he made it through the fifth having faced the minimum, and having needed only 59 pitches to do it.
By that point, the Nationals had staked their starter to a 5-0 lead, thanks to a fourth-inning rally that seemingly had it all. Bad baserunning. Great slides. A harrowing, near-death experience. The extension of a hitting streak. A three-run double on a ball that left the bat at 55 mph.
Yes, the bottom of the fourth alone had all of that. The inning began in annoying fashion when Eaton got caught in no-man’s land rounding second and was promptly thrown out on the bases like a nincompoop. But it didn’t cost the team, because Juan Soto followed with an RBI single to right-center to get the Nationals on the board and extend his hitting streak to nine games.
Two batters later, Soto pulled off the niftiest slide of the year. Trying to score on a chopper to third, he appeared to be DOA, only to deke catcher Bryan Holaday and pull off a hook slide around the fair side of the plate to beat the tag and fire up the home dugout and crowd.
“That was the old hook slide,” Martinez said. “It worked. He probably should’ve kept running. He did the old shuffle there. But he was safe.”
Victor Robles, who appeared to guide Soto in that direction from his spot in the on-deck circle, gave everyone a brief scare moments later when he leaned over the plate to bunt and dropped to the ground in a heap. As Martinez and director of athletic training Paul Lessard rushed from the dugout, the crowd fell hushed, assuming Robles had just been struck in the face.
“I heard it,” Martinez said. “I just hoped that he wasn’t severely hurt.”
Somehow, Robles hopped to his feet and trotted to first base with no problem. As replays would show, the ball only grazed his cheek, sparing him from disaster by perhaps one inch.
“Very, very, very close,” Robles said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I definitely did get scared. I thought to myself: I’m going to be missing some teeth. But luckily it was just a scare and nothing else.”
As if he then needed to prove to anyone he really was OK, Robles proceeded to scamper 270 feet around the bases after Gomes cued a ball just inside the first base line. It only left his bat at 55 mph, but it brought home three runs (thanks in part to a smartly aggressive send at third base by Bobby Henley) and completed a five-run rally.
“I thought it was going to go the other way,” Gomes said with a laugh. “I thought it was going to go to left. That was the way I was intending to hit it. But, hey man, there’s a lot of times where you hit the ball hard and they don’t go where you want them to go, or they fall right into their glove. So any hit we can take, especially with bases loaded like that, we’ll take it.”