Corbin’s arm, Bell’s bat lift Nats to third straight win (updated)

The Nationals don’t need Patrick Corbin to be elite right now. They would happily settle for solid.

Which is precisely what he was today during a 7-2 victory over the Marlins.

Corbin-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgWith seven innings of two-run ball, Corbin turned in the exact kind of performance the Nationals have been seeking from their erratic left-hander since the season began one month ago. He wasn’t in peak form, but he displayed improved command of his fastball and slider and provided length to help take pressure off the bullpen.

“Hitters struggle. So do pitchers,” manager Davey Martinez said during his postgame Zoom session with reporters. “They get in this little funk, and they’ve got to work some things out. You saw today that Patrick came out there and was really good.”

And when combined with seven early runs from their lineup, the Nats had themselves a nice and tidy victory on a sunny-but-breezy Saturday afternoon on South Capitol Street, securing their first three-game winning streak of the young season.

Winners in six of their last nine, the Nationals are now 11-12 and could find themselves in a four-way tie for first place in the National League East by night’s end, pending the outcome of other games.

“I’m proud of the way these guys went out and played,” Martinez said. “We could’ve put our heads between our legs early. But you know what? We put this team together because of the character that we have, and the players that we’ve got. You see what they’re doing. They stuck together, and they’re playing really hard every single day. It’s fun to watch right now.”

They’ve clawed their way back toward the .500 mark, thanks to some more timely hitting, some consistently good relief pitching and more quality outings from their Jekyll-and-Hyde rotation.

Corbin has been right in the middle of that development. He has now made five starts, two of which have been solid, three of which have been duds. Today’s outing won’t go on a short list of the best starts of his career, but it was an important step forward for him nonetheless, mostly because he felt like a mechanical change - using his lower half more - produced the results he’s been seeking.

With a fastball that consistently registered 92-93 mph and a slider he was willing to throw 40 percent of the time, Corbin looked more like his 2019 self than he has so far in 2021. He carried a shutout into the sixth, and though he allowed a solo homer to Jesús Aguilar and then a sacrifice fly to Isan Díaz late, he still departed having acquitted himself nicely in his first seven-inning appearance of the year.

“We’ve been working on a couple things since my last start,” Corbin said. “I’m just trying to repeat my delivery, stay in my legs a little bit, and I just thought that would translate well and have the ball come out a little better. It was a good step in the right direction today.”

Sizeable run support, with Josh Bell in a starring role, helped his cause.

Back to work only 15 hours after a thrilling, 10-inning win in which they didn’t score until Kyle Schwarber’s 454-foot walk-off homer, the Nationals wasted no time getting on the board today. They loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the first, and that’s when Bell delivered a long-awaited clutch hit. The slumping slugger pounded on right-hander Paul Campbell’s first-pitch fastball and ripped a 104-mph single to right to score Josh Harrison.

That was the Nats’ third single of the first, and they would produce three more of them in the second, this time with Harrison blooping a base hit to left-center to score Yan Gomes before he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.

As has been the case through much of the season’s first month, singles were aplenty for the Nationals. Less abundant were extra-base hits, but at long last they delivered a couple of them at just the right moment to create a five-run explosion in the fourth.

Gomes, who had singled off Campbell in his first at-bat, was ready for the Marlins righty again in his second at-bat, lofting a high drive to left and cutting it through the wind for a two-run homer, his second of the season. And once Campbell departed and old pal Ross Detwiler (making his first appearance at Nationals Park since Sept. 5, 2015) entered from the bullpen to load the bases later in the inning, Bell delivered another much-needed clutch hit. His opposite-field double cleared the bases, extended the lead to 7-0 and gave him four RBIs on the day.

“I feel like both those balls I hit today were kind of off the barrel just a tad bit, but they were lower,” Bell said. “If I can keep balls lower, on a line, around the barrel, that’s when good things happen. That’s when you get your ‘mis-hit’ hits. Hopefully, more of those to come, and then the damage will be there whenever a pitcher makes a mistake.”

It all made for a very nice afternoon at the ballpark. More and more, the Nationals are enjoying these on a regular basis, and it’s beginning to show up in the standings.

“I feel like we’re constantly giving ourselves a chance to win,” Bell said. “That’s the most important thing. You saw with Corbin today - we put runs up on the board for him - he’s out there pitching into the seventh. We needed that.”

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