After long wait, Corbin and Nats get back on track (updated)

The Nationals waited 48 hours to take the field again, but Patrick Corbin had to wait a full eight days to take the mound again after a rocky start in Chicago that left the left-hander searching for an answer to his wayward command.

With an extra day of rest between starts, then back-to-back rainouts to sit through, Corbin had far too much time to contemplate his woes and try to formulate a plan to get himself back on track against a tough Phillies lineup.

“I thought I was going to have to face the Braves,” he joked, referring to the Nats’ next series. “So I was asking for them to create that (scouting) report.”

Thankfully, Corbin didn’t have to wait quite that long to return to action. But when he did finally take the ball at 1:05 p.m. today, who honestly knew what to expect from him?

What everyone should have expected was a return to dominance. Despite a minor first-inning hiccup, Corbin mowed down the Phillies in his best performance in weeks, allowing one run while striking out eight over seven superb innings to lead the Nationals to a long-awaited, 6-2 victory in the long-awaited opener of a key homestand against a couple of division rivals.

“We followed Corbin’s heartbeat,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Man, he was jacked up. I mean, two days biting at the bit. He gets out there and pitches. He pitches really well.”

Some early clutch hits and a pair of late blasts by Brian Dozier and Gerardo Parra helped the Nats not only give Corbin a lead but allow Martinez to avoid using Sean Doolittle in the ninth and save his closer for a nightcap in which Max Scherzer will start some 24 hours after breaking his nose in a bunting mishap.

The victory wasn’t entirely possible, though, without the scoreless top of the eighth provided by Tanner Rainey, who in his highest-leverage situation to date faced the meat of the Phillies lineup and escaped a two-on, two-out jam to preserve what was at the time a 3-1 lead.

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But everything else would have been rendered moot without Corbin’s performance, which was critical to the Nationals both toward enjoying success today but also down the road after his string of three consecutive ugly starts.

After a week spent refining mechanics and trying to relocate his faltering fastball command, Corbin took the mound in the top of the first and promptly served up a solo homer to Scott Kingery to put his team in an early 1-0 hole. A bad omen? Not necessarily, because the left-hander did throw each of his first seven fastballs for strikes, an encouraging development in the larger picture.

“Absolutely,” Martinez said. “He used his fastball quite a bit today, which is kind of nice. But he had a good fastball. Location was, to me, the key. Threw the ball down. Threw the ball up when he wanted to. But his location was really good.”

Corbin kept pounding the strike zone and quickly found his groove. He struck out a pair on sliders to end the top of the second, then struck out Jean Segura and Kingery on fastballs during a 1-2-3 top of the third.

And after he struck out the side in the top of the fourth, Corbin had amassed himself a streak of eight consecutive batters retired, seven via strikeout.

“I really felt strong today throughout the course of the game,” he said. “And the couple (fastballs) I did miss with, I felt it right away and was able to get back online.”

The lefty would get into only one real jam, with three straight batters reaching safely in the top of the sixth. But he was bailed out by Bryce Harper (who was thrown out by Parra trying to go first to third on a single to center) and Sean Rodríguez (who grounded out on a 3-0 pitch with runners on the corners to end the inning).

And when Corbin returned to the dugout following a 1-2-3 top of the seventh, he was greeted with handshakes from his manager and pitching coach, his bounce back from three consecutive subpar outings was complete in a big way.

“The last three have been pretty frustrating, so you’ve just got to continue to work,” he said. “There are ups and downs throughout the course of the year. I felt good with what we were doing, just wanted to continue doing it. And it was great to see some results out there.”

By the time Corbin departed, the Nationals had extended their lead to 3-1, thanks to several timely hits.

Juan Soto got them on the board in the bottom of the first when he singled to right, bringing home Adam Eaton. Parra, riding an 0-for-23 slump and walking to the plate to the kiddie earworm “Baby Shark,” doubled to right-center to bring home Matt Adams in the fourth. And Dozier added a double down the left field line in the sixth to bring home Soto, who walked and stole second base to put himself in scoring position.

Dozier and Parra then put a definitive stamp on this one, homering back-to-back in the bottom of the eighth to extend the lead and make this a thoroughly satisfying victory to begin an important, and long-awaited, week of baseball on South Capitol Street.

“The first two days were tough, sitting around not knowing if we are going to play, we might start at 9 p.m., 9:30 p.m.,” Rainey said. “You never know, so it’s hard to stay checked in and stay in focus. But today coming in at 1 p.m. knowing we were going to get a game in ... Corbin obviously throwing as well as he did today giving us a great chance to win, the hitters staying where they are ... big game today.”

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