After each of his 24 previous starts this season, Patrick Corbin has plopped himself down in front of a laptop in the Nationals Zoom room and patiently tried to explain what did - or more likely didn’t - work in each outing.
But time is running out for the veteran southpaw to figure out how to return to form, and no one would blame Corbin if he was at a loss for words after another disheartening start.
Trying to follow up his best start of the season - when he allowed a run on three hits over 6 1/3 innings at Milwaukee on Aug. 20 - Corbin failed miserably Friday night in the finale of a three-game series against the Marlins in Miami.
For three innings, he struggled with his fastball command. His slider didn’t have the repetitive bite that makes it a wipeout pitch when it’s on. And Corbin didn’t even make it through the Marlins order twice before being pulled for a pinch-hitter while trailing 6-0.
“I was looking to build off that one (last outing). I think location struggled a little bit today,” Corbin said afterward in a Zoom call with reporters. “Couple of walks there in the first. Left a slider up. Too many mistakes, can’t be walking guys and kind of got myself in a hole there with a slider in the zone to a guy who can do some damage. And I paid for it.”
The register will show that Corbin allowed six runs on four hits with two walks and three strikeouts, absorbing his 13th loss of the season in a 7-5 setback, matching his career high for defeats with six weeks of baseball remaining in the 2021 campaign.
But a closer examination shows the thin line between success and failure in the majors. Corbin was one strike away from getting out of the first inning unscathed, couldn’t get a third strike when he needed it and wound up in an inescapable 4-0 hole.
Corbin issued a leadoff walk to Miguel Rojas in the Marlins first, then struck out Jesús Aguilar. Lewis Brinson grounded into a fielder’s choice, with Rojas erased at second, and all that stood between Corbin and the third out was cleanup hitter Jesús Sánchez.
The lefty got Sánchez to swing at a 2-1 slider, but couldn’t get strike three. He missed low and inside with a slider, then high and inside with a four-seamer, issuing a walk that changed the face of the inning and the game. Brian Anderson singled to left, driving in a run, and Jorge Alfaro teed off on a 1-1 slider low in the zone, driving the ball over the wall in center for a three-run homer. Isan Díaz then grounded out to end the frame.
“It’s for sure frustrating,” Corbin said. “We wanted to come in today, try to win the series from these guys, and to go three innings and not really give us any length, and make our bullpen eat up those innings is tough as well. ... I don’t think I located very well tonight, and against any big league team, you’re gonna pay for that.”
Right from the start, Corbin sensed he was in for a rough night.
“I walked the leadoff guy of the game (and that’s) never great,” Corbin said. ” ... For that to happen, and then another walk later on, you’re putting yourself in harm’s way by doing that.”
An inning later, Bryan De La Cruz led off with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Elieser Hernandez and trotted home when Rojas connected on a 2-2 slider, depositing his seventh homer into the left field seats for a 6-0 cushion.
“Two home runs on two not-so-good sliders,” said manager Davey Martinez. “That was the big (issue). We talked to him last time about using the fastballs. I said earlier, this team, you can throw breaking balls, but you gotta locate them. ... Two bad sliders cost him a couple home runs. Just a rough night tonight.”
Despite Corbin’s 1-2-3 third inning, Martinez had no choice but to pinch-hit for the lefty in the Nationals fourth after they loaded the bases with one out on three consecutive singles. After 58 pitches - 36 for strikes - Corbin’s night was again done prematurely.
Martinez still sees flashes that Corbin could turn things around.
“He’s had some pretty decent outings,” the manager said. “He’s had one rough inning here and there that caused him to give up a bunch of runs. He’s got five days. We’ve got five days to talk about things and get him back on track again - that’s what we got to do - and get him right.”
Juan Soto touched Hernandez for a two-run homer in the fifth after Alcides Escobar reached second with one out when left fielder De La Cruz and center fielder Brinson collided trying to make the catch. Soto’s 114.1 mph exit velocity was a career high for a home run. But Anderson’s RBI single off Mason Thompson in the Marlins fifth made it 7-2.
Martinez knew Soto’s 21st homer of the season was mashed.
“He it it hard, it was really hard,” Martinez said. “I’ve seen Soto just hit balls hard consistently. It’s just the kind of swing that he has and he can do that.”
Soto was unaware of the milestone.
“Not at all,” he said. “I know most of my homers are 110 (mph). I mean, I feel sometimes I hit the ball harder than that, and every time I look up (at the scoreboard), it’s 110 (mph). Since ‘19, ‘20, I just kind of forget about the speed ... of my homers. I look more at when I hit a single or a double because I think those are coming out harder.”
Hernandez was replaced after five innings. He allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits with one walk and four strikeouts.
The Nats made some noise in the ninth inning when Escobar singled with one out off Anthony Bass and Soto drew a walk. Richard Bleier replaced Bass and Josh Bell shot an RBI single through the shift to make it 7-4. Bleier got Yadiel Hernandez to ground into a 3-6 fielder’s choice, with Soto scoring, then hit Carter Kieboom on the back knee. Dylan Floro relieved and got pinch-hitter Riley Adams to sky to right for the final out.