MIAMI - The Nationals lineup needed some time to figure out Marlins rookie starter Zac Gallen tonight, a chance to watch the young right-hander up close more than once and figure him out. That also meant the Nationals needed Patrick Corbin to keep them in this game and give that lineup a chance to do something later on.
Which is precisely what Corbin did. The left-hander gave up one early run but otherwise was stellar over the course of seven innings to give his teammates a chance to rally.
“Our offense has been amazing this last month,” he said. “One run to them is nothing.”
Which they very much proved by night’s end. After knocking out Gallen three batters into the top of the sixth, Matt Adams launched a three-run homer off lefty Wei-Yin Chen to give the Nationals their first lead of the game, one their bullpen would preserve - by the skin of their teeth - en route to a 7-5 victory before another sparse crowd (6,276) at Marlins Park.
Corbin set the tone with his start. Adams provided the big blast. And though things got way too interesting in the bottom of the ninth when Javy Guerra gave up one run, loaded the bases and then watched as Sean Doolittle gave up a three-run triple to Curtis Granderson, the bullpen ultimately avoided total disaster and finished it off.
“When you walk guys, things go pretty quickly,” manager Davey Martinez said of Guerra, who issued two free passes during the harrowing ninth. “So we got Doo up and ready. We just didn’t want to take any chances.”
It goes down as a win no matter the lack of style points, and right now that’s all that matters to the red-hot Nationals. They’ve won 20 of 29, and if they can pull off another in Thursday’s series finale, they’ll have reached the .500 mark for the first time since they were 11-11 way back on April 23.
“I think everything’s working,” Corbin said. “The starting pitching has been pretty solid. Our offense has been great. And I think defensively has been something we’ve been really good at during this stretch here.”
The Nationals had little advance material on Gallen, making his second career start, to prepare for this game. And it showed early on. The rookie right-hander mowed through the lineup for five innings, at one point striking out six of eight batters.
“He’s got good stuff,” Adams said. “He’s a little funky out there on the mound. He’s got some deceptive arm action with all of his pitches. His fastball definitely plays up. And he’s got a good cutter-slider that he can command to both sides of the plate.”
But then came the top of the sixth, and with it a third opportunity for the top of the lineup to face Gallen and use whatever knowledge that had been gleaned the first two trips through the order. And wouldn’t you know it but Trea Turner, Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon each singled in succession to open the inning, Rendon’s line drive to center scoring Turner to tie the game and bring Don Mattingly out of the home dugout signaling for his bullpen.
The move to Chen made strategic sense, given the two big lefties coming up to bat for the Nationals. But after striking out Juan Soto, Chen left a 3-1 slider over the plate to Adams, who sent the ball soaring to right field for the three-run homer that gave the Nats the lead.
It was the latest - and most impactful - of several Adams hits off a lefty: He’s now four for his last 10 against southpaws with a double and a homer.
“I’m just seeing the ball better against them,” he said. “Putting together good at-bats and making them come to me instead of chansing offspeed stuff off the plate or the fastball in. I think it’s just a comfort thing. And the more chances I get to face them, the better off I’m going to feel.”
That will only complicate matters for Martinez this weekend when Ryan Zimmerman is expected to return from the injured list and further crowd an already crowded group of veterans at first base that also includes the .328-hitting Howie Kendrick, who could’ve pinch-hit for Adams tonight.
“I could’ve,” Martinez said. “But when (Adams) is swinging the bat well like that, and it’s the sixth inning, I really felt comfortable just leaving him in there.”
After pitching behind but now with a sudden three-run lead, Corbin got down to business. He had been in control all along, save for a three-batter stretch in the third that led to the Marlins’ lone run (only after Soto couldn’t quite hold onto a diving catch in shallow left field). But the lefty got serious as he wrapped up his start, retiring the last eight batters he faced, four via strikeout.
“I was able to locate my fastball, threw some strikes inside,” he said. “Which opened up a bunch. Good slider throughout the course of the game. And I think we had our best changeup so far this year. Just continue to build off that.”
Corbin wound up with nine strikeouts in total, raising his career total to 1,008. More importantly, he tossed seven innings of one-run ball on 100 pitches, authoring his second straight quality start after three shaky outings caused some concern.
“Just a professional,” Martinez said. “And constantly working. Watching video. Working on his mechanics. The previous start, he really honed in on what he needed to do. And he’s had two really good starts again. He’s right back on track.”