It’s been an up-and-down season for Patrick Corbin so far in 2021. After struggling out of the gate, he seemed to have fixed his issues for a couple of starts. Then they resurfaced before a couple of strong outings ahead of the All-Star break.
But Corbin did not get the second half off on the right foot after giving up six runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Padres last Saturday. And although it looked like Corbin was going to redeem himself with strong command early Friday night, that dream faded into a 6-1 loss to the Orioles in front of 17,022 at Camden Yards.
Corbin started the night efficiently and in command of his fastball and slider. Playing one off the other, he used his fastball to get ahead in counts and the slider to put away hitters. He needed only 36 pitches to get through the Orioles lineup perfectly the first time through.
Then he ran into trouble in the fourth.
With a 1-0 lead thanks to Josh Bell’s solo home run in the top of the frame, Corbin gave up back-to-back doubles to Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays to tie the game, ending a streak of 21 consecutive innings by Nationals starting pitchers without giving up an earned run. Ramón Urías drove in Hays for a 2-1 Orioles lead by the end of the inning.
In the fifth, Corbin gave up a solo homer to Pat Valaika to make it 3-1.
“Didn’t really change much,” Corbin said on his postgame Zoom session with reporters about the difference in his outing after the third inning. “The Mullins (double) there, left him a slider in the zone, which started the inning there, and then just a bad changeup for the other double. But I thought we did a good job. Tres (Barrera), I thought, was great back there. Got ahead of guys and I thought my stuff played well tonight, and it’s just frustrating you look up, you get five runs and especially when you feel pretty good. I don’t know, it seems like it’s been happening like that a lot lately and I’m just trying to break it.”
His manager had a little more analysis.
“He came out and he got behind a little bit,” manager Davey Martinez said of Corbin’s outing after the third. “He threw 32 pitches in one inning. But like I said, I thought he threw, uncharacteristically, a lot of fastballs today. They didn’t chase as many of his sliders. So I thought he threw a lot more fastballs than he typically does.”
But it wasn’t all on Corbin as the Orioles offense kept scoring. The Nationals defense let down their starter in the sixth inning as this game got out of reach.
After a leadoff double by Trey Mancini, who then advanced to third on a ground ball to short, Corbin issued another ground ball from Urías that was needed to keep the runner from scoring. But Trea Turner’s throw home to Barrera was high as Mancini slid in to score.
Wander Suero came in to relieve Corbin and threw the ball wide on a pickoff attempt at first, allowing Urías to reach third and then score on Pedro Severino’s sac fly to make it 5-1.
Corbin finished the night allowing five runs (four earned) and five hits with one walk and four strikeouts over 5 ⅓ innings. He threw 91 pitches, 60 for strikes.
Valaika hit another solo shot in the seventh off Suero, doubling his season home run total with two longballs tonight. This was just his second career multi-homer game, the last one coming in 2017 with the Rockies.
“I mean, you try to just forget about these kinds of things,” Corbin said, “I gotta come in tomorrow, get my workout in, play some catch and two days from now, throw a bullpen. I mean, it’s tough to not think about how this season has gone so far personally. But nothing I can do about that now, so just gotta ... it’s tough but you just try to get better, try to listen to as many people here as you can, take advice and that’s all I can do.”
The Nationals offense was quiet for most of the night against the Orioles pitching staff, with Bell’s 448-foot homer providing the only run for the visitors. After the home run, the Nats mustered only four more baserunners the rest of the night.
As a team, they finished 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position with five of the eight coming from Alcides Escobar, Turner and Juan Soto at the top of the order. The Nats also left seven runners on base, once again not being able to come up with a clutch hit when needed.
“We didn’t hit. Our first three batters, I think, left (seven) guys on base,” said Martinez. “But overall, we didn’t swing the bats like we’ve been doing. Corbin started off well. He gave up some hits, gave up the big home run to Valaika there. But I thought he threw the ball ... his velo was really good, he’s throwing the ball well. He’s just not finishing hitters. But he’s throwing the ball well, so just gotta come back tomorrow and win tomorrow and try to win the series. We’ve said all along, if we come out and start winning series, we’ll get back in this thing.”
It’s just one loss and there are two more games to be played this weekend in Baltimore to win the series. But the issues that have plagued the Nationals all season long - spotty starting pitching and a lack of clutch hitting - kept them from winning this game against an inferior opponent a week away from the trade deadline.
The Nationals are now 45-51, seven games back of the Mets and in fourth place in the National League East. The Mets beat the Blue Jays tonight and the Phillies beat the Braves to each gain a game on the Nats in the standings.
If they want to prove that they’re contenders and buyers by next Friday’s deadline, winning these next two games and winning the series in Philadelphia next week is almost a must at this point.
“Yeah, I mean, I don’t think we feel it for that reason,” said Ryan Zimmerman when asked if the Nats feel that this is a critical stretch leading up to decision-making time on whether to buy or sell at the trade deadline. “We feel it because it’s a critical stretch for us to win games. That stuff, like you said, is done by the front office and people that make those decisions. None of those decisions are made by us in the room. And I think it helps that we’re a veteran team as well. I think maybe some young teams think about that kind of stuff, but we honestly just go out and play and try to win each day. And that’s all we can do. We can only control the things that we can control.”