Corbin, Nats reach new depths in blowout loss (updated)

It’s been 15 years since the Nationals last saw a pitcher do this. That is, pitch this poorly while remaining a member of the rotation for the bulk of a season.

Way back in 2006, when Alfonso Soriano was chasing a 40-40 season, Frank Robinson was nearing the end of his managerial career and Ryan Zimmerman was trying to win National League Rookie of the Year, a journeyman right-hander named Ramón Ortiz slogged his way through the worst pitching season in Nats history.

Ortiz led the National League with 16 losses. He gave up 31 homers, second-most in the NL. He did actually carry a no-hitter into the top of the ninth on Labor Day and had RFK Stadium shaking when he homered the previous inning. But when the season ended, he owned a 5.57 ERA across 33 starts.

That mark has stood as the highest ERA for any Nationals pitcher who threw at least 100 innings since. And barring a dramatic turn of events over the next six weeks, Patrick Corbin is going to shatter it.

We are now nearly three-quarters of the way through a 2021 season that has been nothing but wretched for the Nats. It saw the front office concede defeat two weeks ago and trade away eight veterans, including some names forever associated with the franchise’s first World Series title only two years ago.

Corbin, the winning pitcher in the title-clinching game, was not dealt away. The Nationals couldn’t have concocted a scenario in which they could’ve dealt him away. Because he’s still owed $82 million over the next three years. And because he is currently one of the worst pitchers in baseball.

Corbin-Throwing-Red-Home-Sidebar.jpgCorbin reached a new low tonight during a 12-2 loss to the Braves. Unable once again to get through an opposing lineup more than twice, the left-hander was tagged for six runs in 4 2/3 innings before finally getting an unceremonious hook from manager Davey Martinez.

Just as he did six days earlier in Atlanta, Corbin showed glimpses of his ability to be effective. He got through his first four innings allowing only two runs (and he might have allowed none if not for a gross misread in center field by Victor Robles), striking out five and inducing a healthy number of swings and misses off his slider.

But just as he did Sunday in Atlanta, and just as he has done so many other times this season, Corbin could not sustain any semblance of success. He wilted in the fifth inning, giving up four runs on four hits and a walk and serving up a two-run blast to Ozzie Albies that represented the 38th homer he has surrendered over 193 innings the last two seasons combined. Only the Rangers’ Jordan Lyles has served up more.

“What I’m starting to notice is patterns for him,” Martinez said during his postgame Zoom session with reporters. “Once he gets past the second time through the order, I started noticing they just started sitting on his slider. ... We need to talk to him about starting to make adjustments the third time through. His fastball, especially his two-seamer, is electric. He’s throwing 94-95 (mph). I really believe he needs to start throwing that a lot more later in games because it does have some action on it and he can get the ball down in the zone with it.”

This was the sixth consecutive start in which Corbin has allowed four or more runs. He has given up 10 homers in his last five outings.

And with that, the 31-year-old now sports a 6.04 ERA. It’s the highest ERA among all qualifying major league pitchers, and it’s far higher than any ERA any previous Nationals starter who was given a chance to pitch this regularly has ever produced.

“Obviously, it’s been frustrating,” Corbin said. “I’ve been saying this over and over and over. But I mean, nothing I can do about it now. I’ve just got to continue to try to get better. All I know how to do that is to come to the field, work, work on anything I can and try to move on.”

The Nats, who have now lost 11 of 12 and fallen into a last-place tie with the Marlins, have gone 10-29 since July 1. That matches the worst 39-game stretch in club history, previously achieved only by the 2008 and 2009 Nationals, not surprisingly the only two teams in club history to lose 100 games.

“I just wanted to reiterate to those guys we’ve got to stay positive, keep our heads up and keep pushing forward,” said Martinez, who didn’t meet with media members until 50 minutes after the game ended because he was talking to members of his coaching staff and a few players. “We’ve got a lot of young players and I want them to understand that we’ve got to teach. This is a moment where we’ve got to teach and stay with them every day and stay positive.”

It is fitting that the 2021 Nationals employ a pitcher who is doing things no pitcher has done for this franchise since those doldrums days of another era, when all focus was on the future instead of the present. Not since 2010 have the Nats seen a pitcher throw 100 or more innings and finish with an ERA over 4.67. Even a dramatic, late-season turnaround from Corbin wouldn’t be enough to avoid that fate.

The question now shifts to: What do they do with him? He’s not injured. There’s no intriguing alternative waiting to take his spot in the rotation. He’s signed here through 2024.

The Nationals have never needed to confront these kind of issues. Anytime they’ve dealt with a pitcher struggling to this extent, they haven’t been hamstrung to him like this.

Corbin isn’t going anywhere, because there’s nowhere for the Nationals to send him. And that’s an especially discouraging fact during a miserable season that has devolved into this.

“I’m looking forward to getting out there again and trying to turn this around,” he said. “It seems like the same thing over and over. But I need to just continue to talk to the guys that we have here who are trying to help and have been great. I’m just not executing and doing what I’ve done before. So it’s frustrating. ... I feel I’m competing. I’m out there trying to do my best. It’s just ... things just aren’t working out right now.”

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