Another ragged start closes out Corbin’s rough August (updated)

On a day in which the Nationals all but admitted their once highly touted center fielder has become a bust, they proceeded to watch their $140 million No. 3 starter take another step toward locking up the worst pitching season in club history.

The Nats were able to option Victor Robles to Triple-A. They have no such luxury with Patrick Corbin.

With yet another dreadful performance during a 12-6 loss to the Phillies, Corbin added another disappointing chapter to his regrettable season and made moot any thought of an uplifting end to a Tuesday that began with major roster news.

The decision to demote Robles, mired in a two-year-long slump at the plate, to Rochester signaled the Nationals’ growing frustration with the 24-year-old center fielder. Not long ago considered the organization’s top prospect - perhaps even a better all-around player than Juan Soto - Robles now isn’t even deemed good enough to ride the bench for a team undergoing a massive rebuild.

Whether the Nats ultimately give him another shot in 2021 or 2022 remains to be seen, but the message they delivered this afternoon couldn’t have been clearer: They don’t see any value in keeping him on the big league roster at this point.

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“I’ve said this before, and I mean this with all my heart: We want Victor to be successful up here,” manager Davey Martinez said in his postgame Zoom session with reporters. “He’s still young, he’s (24) years old, he’s got a bright future here with us. ... I mean, I know this is not the last we’re going to see of Victor, but I want him to kind of take a load off his mind and not put so much pressure on himself.”

Based on his performance alone, Corbin would merit his own demotion. After giving up six runs, nine hits and four walks in five-plus innings tonight, the left-hander owns a 6.26 ERA, highest in the majors among all qualifying starters by more than a half-run.

Tonight’s proceedings included a pair of two-run homers (one by Andrew McCutchen moments after Bryce Harper bunted for a hit, the other by rookie catcher Rafael Marchan) that left Corbin holding yet another unfortunate distinction. He has now surrendered 33 home runs this season, already the most in club history before the calendar shifts to September.

“Obviously, giving up those homers there has been my issue all season,” he said. “Definitely frustrating with that, for sure.”

Unlike with Robles, the Nationals are stuck with Corbin. He’s signed for another three years and another $82 million, and as a veteran he can’t be optioned to the minors without consent. The two have no choice but to try to figure this out themselves and try to salvage the rest of this season and three more still to come.

“It’s tough right now for him. He’s frustrated,” Martinez said. “But I’ve got to have all the confidence right now with him, and talk to him and talk him up. I want him to leave this year on a positive note. It’s a must. He’s going to be here. He’s one of our guys. I’m going to put him out there, I’m going to keep pushing him.”

The evening actually started off in encouraging fashion, with Corbin posting three straight zeros and his teammates opening up a 3-0 lead.

Lane Thomas, the biggest beneficiary of Robles’ demotion, drilled a ball into to the left-center gap for a two-out RBI double in the bottom of the second. One inning later, Josh Bell (getting a rare start in left field), Ryan Zimmerman (getting a rare start with Bell also in the lineup) and Luis García (continuing to impress against lefties) all doubled off Phillies starter Matt Moore to bring home two more runs.

Add a two-run homer in the fourth by Carter Kieboom (his second in as many nights) and there was every reason for the crowd of 16,844 to be optimistic. That was, until Corbin gave it all back and then some, with Andres Machado pouring more gasoline on the fire in allowing three runs of his own in relief during a painful top of the sixth that flipped the game entirely in Philadelphia’s direction.

So it was the Nationals closed out August with four straight losses. They went 7-20 overall, producing a .259 winning percentage that ranks as the third-worst month in club history. Only the 100-loss teams of another era did worse, with a 5-16 record in April 2009 and a 5-19 record in July 2008 representing the lowest points for the franchise since it arrived in D.C.

“The boys are playing hard, and we’re scoring four to six runs every day,” Martinez said. “There was a point in time where we could score four or five runs and come out with a victory. We’ve got to find a way to get back to that.”

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